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Lions Roar : July 2017
Tibet’s fragile environment. The urbanization push means rural pastureland is disappearing. Tibet’s rivers—a critical resource for more than 1.3 billion people in the world’s ten most densely populated nations—are being dammed. The Tibetan plateau is heating up three times as fast as the global average, and as a result, glaciers are melting at a rate of seven percent annually, causing massive landslides. At this speed, according to Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of Tibet’s government-in-exile, two-thirds of the 46,000 glaciers on the Tibetan plateau—the largest concentration of ice on the planet after the North and South poles—will be gone by 2050, leading to a release of carbon that will have a catastrophic impact on global climate change. Tibet’s culture is no less under attack. In one glaring example, China has sharply scaled back the teaching of the Tibetan language as part of its push to encourage the assimila- tion of Tibetans into the dominant Han culture. The assault on Tibetan Buddhism, which the Dalai Lama characterizes as “cultural genocide,” is far broader. The famed Potala Palace in Lhasa, traditional seat of the Dalai Lamas, has been turned into a tourist museum with secular guards. Bud- dhist monasteries are strictly controlled. Thousands of build- ings have been demolished and monastics displaced at Larung Gar and Yachen Gar, two of the largest and most important centers of Buddhist learning in Tibet over which China has now assumed control. The campaign to demonize the Dalai Lama personally is equally relentless. His Holiness, who fled Tibet after the abortive uprising in 1959, is derided by Chinese officials as a “wolf in monk’s robes” and a “splitist” intent on separating Tibet from its Chinese mother- land. His followers are belittled as the “Dalai Lama clique.” Foreign leaders who meet with the Dalai Lama earn Beijing’s scorn, a worrisome prospect given China’s economic power. Many decline to meet with him at all, or hold only private meetings. The repercussions of supporting the Dalai Lama are many times greater inside Tibet, where merely possessing his image is punishable by years in jail. Earlier this year, Chinese authorities barred Tibetans—who in 2016 received only a frac- tion of the foreign travel visas they were once granted—from travelling to the Dalai Lama’s Kalachakra teachings in India. A central instrument in China’s strategy to curb the Dalai Lama’s global clout is the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama, who is being groomed by the government as an alternative to His Holiness, who turns 83 this summer. In 1995, the Dalai Lama had named a six-year-old Tibetan boy living in Tibet as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second most important religious figure. Three days later, the boy and his family were kidnapped by Chinese authorities and have never been seen or heard from again. In his place, the government installed the son of a pair of Communist Party members, who this year called on Tibetan Buddhist monks to love the Communist party. “The appointment of the fake Panchen Lama as a polit- ical tool is not working,” says Penpa Tsering of the govern- ment-in-exile. But China’s biggest power play is surely ahead. The officially atheist government in Beijing has declared that Above left: Tibet’s rich deposits of minerals and fossil fuels help power China’s rapid economic growth. Resource development has damaged the environmentally important Tibetan plateau. Middle: A monk surveys the wreckage of Larung Gar, a major Buddhist institute de- molished by the Chinese government. Suppressing and ultimately taking over Buddhist institutions is an important part of China’s campaign to control Tibetan society. Opposite right: The Orwellian “grid management” surveillance system is designed to manage Tibetan society “without gaps, without blind spots, without blanks,” according to Chinese state media. PHOTOABOVECENTERBY:GILLESSABRIE/THENEWYORKTIMES/REDUX LION’S ROAR | JULY 2017 72