Authorities in northwestern China’s Qinghai province are forcing young Tibetan monks to leave their monasteries, sending them back to their family homes in a drive that threatens their connection to Tibet’s traditional religion and culture, sources say.
The move, announced in a Religious Affairs Regulation on Oct. 1, has already seen monks aged 11 to 15 years expelled from Dhitsa monastery in Qinghai, historically a part of northeastern Tibet’s Amdo region, a source in the area told RFA in a written message.
“Also, young monks in Jakhyung monastery and other monasteries in Qinghai have been forced to give up their robes and are being sent back home,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Government officials are now inspecting these monasteries to make sure the regulation is being obeyed.”
Enforcement of the new rule was launched on Oct. 20, “and higher-up officials have been very strict in implementing it,” the source said, adding that the number of young monks expelled so far under the regulation is still unclear.
“But they are being told they can’t return to the monasteries or wear monks’ robes anymore, and whether they will now be sent to government schools or not is also unclear,” he said. “None of them were forced to become monks, and they enrolled in the monasteries with their parents’ consent.”
The new regulation says that monasteries in Qinghai may no longer admit underage boys as monks or allow them to take part in religious activities, but doesn’t specify the age limit required, the source said.
Authorities in Tibetan-populated regions of neighboring Sichuan had already begun three years ago to remove young monks from their monasteries so they could return to government-run schools and learn to “serve society,” Tibetan sources told RFA in earlier reports.
Many had enrolled in the monasteries’ courses in Buddhist philosophy and logic and some were top students in their class, sources said.
Chinese authorities have long sought to restrict the size and influence of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, traditionally a focus of Tibetan cultural and national identity, sources in the region say.
“Before 2008, according to a government regulation passed in the capital city of Lhasa, no one there was allowed to enroll as a monk under the age of 18,” said Tenzin Phuntsok, a researcher at the Dharamsala, India-based Tibet Policy Institute.
“So now the same kind of regulation is being implemented and forced upon Tibetans [in other places],” Phuntsok said, calling the campaign an attempt to further eradicate Tibetan religion and culture as China moves to Sinicize the region.
Pema Gyal, a researcher at London-based Tibet Watch, added that Chinese authorities say that young Tibetans should complete their education in regular schools before coming of age.
“But in reality, this is just an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to assimilate Tibetan religious institutions, and to disconnect younger Tibetans from learning their own religion by instilling Chinese communist beliefs in them from a young age,” he said.
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