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‘Teach Tibetans a Lesson’: Monks Forced to Watch as Chinese Regime Destroys 99-Foot-Tall Buddha Statue

Alina Wang
A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights, politics, tech, and society.
Published: January 7, 2022
LHASA, TIBET - JUNE 20: A Tibetan worshiper looks at Chinese police officer patrolling in front of Potala Palace ahead of the Beijing Olympic Torch relay on June 20, 2008 in Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region, China. Chinese authorities maintain tight security in Lhasa after the deadly riots against Chinese rule in the city three months ago. (Photo by Guang Niu/Getty Images)

Last month, authorities in the Chinese province of Sichuan demolished a 99-foot Buddha statue and forced Tibetan monks and other local residents to watch the destruction of the revered monument. According to Tibetan sources, the statue was demolished after officials supposedly received complaints that the statue was built too high and had violated local guidelines. 

The event took place on Dec. 12 in Drago (Luhuo in Chinese), a county in the Kardze (Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture located in western Sichuan. According to local sources, 45 traditional prayer wheels set up for use by Tibetan pilgrims and other worshipers were also destroyed along with the statue.

Radio Free Asia (RFA) first reported the incident on Jan. 4 and verified using commercial satellite imagery that the statue had been demolished. Chinese authorities forced monks from the Thoesam Gatsel monastery and Tibetans living in Chuwar and other nearby towns to witness the demolition, which lasted for nine days.

“Local Tibetans from other villages were also forced to come and watch the demolition,” one Tibetan living in India said, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect family members still living in Drago. “A lot of police had also been deployed to make sure that spectators didn’t take pictures or videos or create disturbances.”

“It was just like the [1966-76] Cultural Revolution, when the Chinese government destroyed everything that was old in Tibet,” the source told RFA.

“Along with the Buddha statue, the prayer wheels erected near Drago monastery were also destroyed, and the way they orchestrated this demolition was very disrespectful,” another Tibetan living in India said, also speaking anonymously in order to protect his sources from retaliation for speaking out against government policy.

Chinese military patrol the streets in armored vehicles in the Tibetan capital Lhasa on 15 March, 2008 a day after violent protests broke out following days of demonstrations against Chinese rule. China said that 10 people had been burnt to death during the unrest in Lhasa, as the military locked down the Tibetan capital amid fierce international scrutiny ahead of the Beijing Olympics. (Image: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

While most of China’s Tibetans live in the Tibet (or Xizang) Autonomous Region, significant communities of the Buddhist ethnic group live in Sichuan and Qinghai provinces. Despite calling Tibetans one of the “56 flowers” (referring to the 56 officially recognized ethnic groups of China), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has persecuted their religion, language, and culture severely. Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans are believed to have been killed under communist rule since the 1950s. 

The U.S. State Department said in a statement that the Biden administration had “deep concerns” over reports of the statue’s destruction and the abuses sustained by Tibetan residents at the hands of the CCP authorities. 

“[We] continue to urge PRC authorities to respect the human rights of Tibetans and the preservation of Tibet’s environment as well as the unique cultural, linguistic, and religious identity of Tibetan traditions,” the State Department was quoted by RFA as saying. 

“We will work with our partners and allies to press Beijing to cease ongoing abuses against Tibetans and return to direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his Tibetan representatives, without preconditions, to resolve differences.”

Destroying Tibetan identity

Drago county chief Wang Dongsheng, director of the demolition, had previously overseen a campaign of destruction at Sichuan’s sprawling Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, in a move that saw thousands of monks and nuns expelled from temples and evicted from their homes. 

“Now we are seeing the same kind of destruction here in Drago and restrictions placed on Tibetans in the region,” he said.

“It is a fact that the statue is now almost completely destroyed and that local Tibetans were forced to watch these events, with authorities saying this would teach Tibetans a lesson,” Wang added. 

Completed in 2015, the Buddha statue in Drago had been built with contributions of around 40 million yuan (U.S. $6.3 million) by both locals and Tibetans living abroad, and was designed to withstand earthquakes, a former Drago resident named Palden said. 

“And it had the full approval of the local authorities,” Palden said, adding that Chinese authorities later withdrew their approval and said the statue had been built too high.

“But in reality, their intention is to completely destroy Tibet’s identity by eradicating Tibetan religion and culture,” he said.

Chinese authorities retaliate

In response to the cries of injustice over the demolished statue, authorities in Sichuan province have begun “beating and arresting Tibetan monks suspected of informing outside contacts about the destruction of a sacred statue,” Tibetan sources say.

According to RFA, eleven monks from Drago’s Gaden Namgyal Ling monastery have now been arrested by Chinese authorities on suspicion of sending news and photos of the statue’s destruction to contacts outside the region, a Tibetan source in exile revealed today. 

“The monks were brutally beaten and not given any food in prison, and one was beaten so brutally that one of his eyes is badly injured,” the source said. “And citing what they call the indifferent attitude shown by local Tibetans, the Chinese authorities are forcing some of them to stand outside with no clothes in the freezing cold.”

Wholescale persecution

This isn’t the first time authorities in China have attempted to strip Tibetans and other ethnic minorities from their cultural heritage and religious beliefs. 

Last month, a report released by the The Tibet Action Institute described how children in Tibet as young as four had been forced to attend a vast boarding school system created by the Chinese regime. Students in these schools would receive a “politicized” education, mainly in Chinese, and are unable to practice Tibetan traditions, the group’s report said.

Tenzin, a Tibetan now living in the U.S. who attended one of these boarding schools in China said “now kids as young as five years old are being taken from their hometowns and environments and put in this school system. When you are cut off from your language and culture and history, you lose a sense of who you are, and eventually it feels like you’re losing the very fabric of your humanity,” he said. “You don’t feel complete.”

The CCP has long targeted religious faiths and minorities for violent assimilation to its atheist ideology. Apart from Tibetan Buddhists, the Party has sent more than 1 million Uyghurs — a Muslim ethnicity — to concentration camps in their native Xinjiang region and throughout China. Chinese Christians and adherents of the Falun Gong spiritual practice have also suffered persecution for decades.


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