Authorities in the northwestern Chinese province of Gansu have forcibly shut down a Tibetan monastery in the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, evicting the monks and nuns by force, RFA has learned.
Monks at Hongcheng monastery, also known as the Yulingta monastery, are shown in videos of the incident holding up banners that read “Forcible defrocking of monks is illegal and unacceptable!” and other protest slogans.
Videos also showed monks sitting on the roof of the monastery shouting down at a group of unidentified people on the ground.
Nuns wailed in mourning at being made to leave, while others shouted “Stop this! Stop this!” and “Film everything! Let’s jump!”
An employee who answered the phone at the Yongjing county ethnic minority and religious affairs bureau declined to comment when contacted by RFA on Monday.
“I don’t really know about this,” the employee said. “You should call the office. I don’t know about the resettlement arrangements for Hongcheng monastery.”
The employee said Director Cui of the monastery management committee was responsible for “resettling” the monks and nuns.
Repeated calls to Cui’s cell phone rang unanswered on Monday.
An employee who answered the phone at the Xihe township government offices near Hongcheng declined to respond to questions when contacted by RFA on Monday.
“No, nothing like that happened,” the employee said. “Where are you calling from? Name? Phone number? I need you to register.”
Many monks detained
U.S.-based commentator Ma Ju, who has been following the incident, said many monks were detained during the eviction.
He said Hongcheng likely won’t be the last monastery to be targeted.
“They are getting ready to eliminate all Tibetan temples and monasteries within the majority Han Chinese area of China,” Ma said. “This is one of their policies.”
“They believe that this place was a way for Tibetan Buddhism to gain a foothold in mainland China.”
The move is likely linked to a recent visit by the Chinese Communist Party’s Panchen Lama, who said Tibetan Buddhism must not be used as a tool for “hostile foreign forces” to undermine CCP rule.
Online comments said local officials were likely interested in the monastery’s wealth, as it had received a surge in donations during the coronavirus pandemic.
Kelsang Gyaltsen Bawa, Representative of the Office of Tibet in Taipei, said the evictions have been part of a long-running campaign by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to evict monks and nuns in Gansu.
“It’s even worse in Gansu than it was during the Cultural Revolution,” he said, in a reference to the political turmoil and mass destruction of cultural institutions that took place under late supreme leader Mao Zedong from 1966 to 1976.
“The CCP also forcibly defrocked monks and nuns from 1956 through 1959 to 1965, in the name of so-called national reforms in Tibet,” he said.
“This is a very serious matter. It’s not as simple as saying that they are trying to sinicize Tibetan Buddhism,” he said.
He said the CCP is likely trying to eliminate the practice of Tibetan Buddhism anywhere within China’s borders.
A Gansu-based historian surnamed Gao said the move was in line the CCP’s campaign of church demolitions and cross removal.
“Now they are targeting Tibetan Buddhism, forcibly defrocking monks and nuns,” Gao said. “There is a fundamental lack of respect.”
The Hongcheng monastery was already destroyed once in 1958, before reconstruction began under President Hu Jintao in 2011 using donations gathered by Gentsong Rinpoche, a religious leader.
“Local Chinese authorities expressed concern and suspicion about how the monastery had become so wealthy, and used this as an excuse to investigate and overhaul,” the Tibet Post newspaper reported.
“Ultimately, the matter ended with a demand that the monastery share its income equally with the local government,” the report said.
“Random and unreasonable inspections became more and more frequent. Gradually, the problem escalated until the government decided to directly seize the monastery, expel the monks, and force them to live a secular life against their will,” it said.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.