Tibetan monks forced to take "patriotic tests"

GANNAN PREFECTURE, China (Reuters) - Three months after demonstrations flared up in Tibetan towns and monasteries across China, monks say they now have to pass a patriotic test, possibly in September, to be allowed to remain as monks.

Tibetan nuns and monks pray at a community centre in Kathmandu May 10, 2008. REUTERS/Shruti Shrestha

Tension runs high in Gannan, a heavily Tibetan area in southern Gansu province, which was convulsed by marches and attacks against government buildings and some non-Tibetan shops, after demonstrations turned violent in the Tibetan capital Lhasa on March 14.

Monks now struggle to pay fines and master texts on “patriotic education”, while armed paramilitary units guard access to main monasteries.

Work teams have moved into monasteries to supervise study sessions that are supposed to break monks’ allegiance to the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader who China believes is responsible for the unrest.

Monks say the teams are likely to stay until after the Olympic Games are held in Beijing in August.

The slim, pastel-covered textbooks, in Chinese and Tibetan, cover Chinese law, including laws of autonomous regions, and chapters condemning Tibetan independence and the Dalai Lama.

“We don’t believe this, why should we?” said one Tibetan, dressed in the dark clothes of a farmer.

“The whole world speaks highly of the Dalai Lama, why doesn’t China?”

Another textbook, titled “propaganda material”, has chapters on “What happened during unrest in our prefecture” and “The history of how Tibet became part of China”.

The Dalai Lama fled to India after an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. During that time, Gannan’s monasteries were stripped of valuables and emptied of monks, while people starved under the drastic industrial policies of the Great Leap Forward, locals said.

“Now they think we are all terrorists, or ‘Tibetan splittists’ and say we have to love the country,” spat one young monk, switching into Chinese to repeat the phrases.

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A tall young monk sighed and buried his face in his hands when asked how he would answer the questions.

“They have no choice but to take the test. This is what is called ‘not free’,” the lay Tibetan said. “We Tibetans have no right to say anything.”


More than 2,000 people were initially detained in Gannan in March, with all but a few hundred released within a month. Some of those still in detention were charged with “intent to kill” after burning local police stations or government guesthouses.

At checks along roads leading to monasteries, paramilitary policemen asked if drivers were Han Chinese and checked cars before allowing them through.

People’s Armed Police in camouflage and helmets blocked entry to the monastery in Hezuo, capital of Gannan prefecture. The dirt streets of the monastery, known for its nine-storey Milarepa tower, appeared bare of the usual traffic of monks and pilgrims.

Although China’s constitution includes freedom of religion, in practice Buddhism and other faiths are controlled through government-run associations. It was not clear how widely the tests were being enforced.

“The work team from the county seat tells us monks should only read scripture, don’t get involved with politics,” said an elderly monk at a tiny, remote monastery in Diebu county.

Monks in a monastery near Zhuoni, an alpine corner of southern Gansu, shooed boys in maroon robes away before agreeing to talk to a journalist.

The boys, aged 11, were suspected of involvement in the uprising and detained for three days. Their relatives had to pay a fine of 3,000 yuan each to release them.

Families also paid fines of 5,000 yuan ($725) or more to free monks after 10 days to two months in detention. The amount is more than the average annual income in Gannan prefecture, where most Tibetans live in towns but some still herd in the high grasslands.

“I was terrified,” said one monk who was held in the local police station for 10 days, speaking in thickly accented Chinese.

“If families couldn’t pay, they borrowed from others. Mine sold a yak.”

Editing by Nick Macfie and David Fogarty