A Budding Buddhist Revolution?

As Tibetan monks set themselves ablaze in protest of Beijing’s rule, young Han Chinese are heading west to seek refuge in Buddhist teachings, often to the chagrin of their families. From USA Today:

“Look around. They could never find me here,” Sheng, 27, says of parents so anxious about their only child’s turn to Tibetan Buddhism that they have threatened to kidnap her.

[...]In Ganzi, many people welcome the growing number of Chinese students but complain their own freedoms will be restricted as long as the Dalai Lama remains in India, his home since 1959.

“I am proud so many Han Chinese come to Serthar to study, as it will help relations between the Han and Tibetan peoples,” says Tashi Dengzhu, a yak and sheep herder who lives south of Serthar.

The article goes on to explain that the mysterious nature of Tibetan Buddhism and the remote physical location of the Tibetan cultural realm makes this breed of Buddhism more attractive than varieties more widely practiced in rapidly developing lowland China:

Chinese visitors frequently describe Tibetan Buddhism, and its environment, as purer than the Buddhism sporadically practiced by more than 100 million Chinese in cities and towns teeming with temptation. Just how many Han Chinese have converted to Tibetan Buddhism is a sensitive and unanswered question in China.

[...]“Tibetan Buddhism is more attractive than other religions because many Chinese think it’s mysterious,” suggests Xu Jun, an analyst at Sichuan University’s Center for Tibetan Studies. Eight other Chinese Tibetan scholars declined interview requests on this topic.

One reason: The faith offers psychological comfort amid China’s rapid social and economic changes, Xu says.

The parents of young urban Buddhist converts aren’t the only ones anxious about what’s happening in Tibetan regions of China. In response to the wave of protests by Buddhist monks in Tibet, the central government is cracking down. McClatchy reports:

The chain of self-immolations — comprising six monks, three former monks and a nun — is unprecedented in modern Tibetan history. The most recent occurred Oct. 25.

The response so far by the Chinese Communist Party has been to knuckle down even more. Towns surrounding Aba are stacked with police. Internet access is shut off in many spots. Those suspected of sympathizing closely with activist monks are said to have disappeared.

A McClatchy reporter was detained for two hours Saturday when he was pulled over at a police checkpoint 15 miles from Hongyuan on the winding road toward Aba. He was released only after photos were deleted from his camera and he agreed not to stop again in Hongyuan on the way out, a condition emphasized by threats to his driver and the multiple vehicles that followed him.

Read reporter Tom Lasseter’s accounts of his visit to Aba via his Twitter stream.

November 2, 2011 11:07 AM
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