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between religious authority and political power in Tibet. From the 13th century, when the institution of reincarnation (Tib. tulku, Chin. huofo, literally «living Buddha»), lineages of Tibetan religious teachers, was established by the Karma-Kagyu (karma bka’ brgjud) Tibetan Buddhist school (Samuel 1993: 493–494)1, the dignitaries of various Buddhist schools started to play an influential role in Tibetan politics. This tendency reached its height with the assumption of political power by the 5th Dalai Lama Ngawang Lozang Gyatsho (ngag dbang blo bzang rgya mtsho, 1617–1682) in 1642 in Central Tibet (Shakabpa 1988: 61–124). The traditional political system of Central Tibet in the years 1642–1950 is often described in Tibetan as «having two [powers]: religious and political» (Tib. chos srid gnyis ldan)2 which reflected the fact that the supreme political and religious power rested in the hands of the successive reincarnations of the Dalai Lama (Phuntsog Wangyal 1975: 78–81)3. The ecclesiastical elite of Tibetan society played an important role in the government and therefore the Tibetan polity is often characterized as theocratic. The influence of Buddhist clergy in Tibet is also obvious from the structure of government agencies, where the so-called monk officials from the biggest Gelugpa (dge lugs pa) monasteries occupied crucial posts (Goldstein 1989: 6–19). However, in the central Lhasa government, their influence was counterbalanced by lay officials, which was not the case in the peripheral areas of Tibet where the local reincarnations were the de facto rulers of the area and their political influence were not limited by any secular power holders4. The Imperial Chinese government – especially during the last Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) – had a good knowledge of both Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan politics5. Tibetan Buddhism had played an important role in the Qing project of creating an Inner Asian empire (Zhang 1988: 59–91; Dabringhaus 1997). In the course of the 18th century when the Chinese presence in Central Tibet was established, the Imperial court strived to assert control over the identification of new reincar1


The unique feature of the traditional, i. e. pre-1949, Tibetan polity was the dominant role of Buddhist dignitaries in both politics and economy and it also influenced the relations with Imperial China. In traditional Tibet the Chinese authorities had to cope with a distinctive socio-political system characterized by the close relationship


The institution of succession by reincarnation reflects the Buddhist concept of «three bodies» (Sans. trikāya) in which Buddhas manifest themselves. The third body, nirmānakāya («the transformation body») represents the material form, earthly body in which Buddhas and Bodhisattvas appear to ordinary human beings in order to liberate all sentient beings from the sufferings of samsāra (Samuel 1993: 281–283). 2 In Chinese sources this system is characterized as the «union of politics and religion» (Chin. zheng jiao heyi) which is in direct contradiction with the «principle of the separation of politics and religion» (Chin. zheng jiao fenli de yuanze) which stands at the core of religious policy in the People’s Republic of China (Jiang et al. 1996: 96). 3 This model of the concentration of political power in the hands of a Buddhist hierarch was later established (with some modifications) also in other part of Inner Asia were Tibetan Buddhism had spread, e. g. in Inner and Outer Mongolia – see Rahul 1969. 4 This was the case for instance in the area around the Labrang (bla brang) monastery in northeastern Tibet where traditionally the tulku Jamyang Zhepa (‘jam dbyangs bzhad pa) independently administered the neighboring area. 5 Some Qing emperors – especially Qianlong (r. 1736–1796) – had shown deep personal interest in Tibetan Buddhist teachings (Wang 2000). The presence of high-ranking Tibetan lamas at the Imperial court and exposure to Tibetan culture had influenced also the art production at the Qing court. 339

nations. This policy resulted in the so-called procedure of «drawing lots of a golden urn» (Chin. jinping che qian, Tib. gser bum skrug pa), a praxis established by the Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong in 1793 by the 29-Point Imperial regulations (Chin. Qingding ershijiu tiao zhangcheng) (Su 2001: 166–174) at the peak of the Manchu-Chinese influence in Central Tibet which was later not regularly used due to the weakening of the Qing Dynasty grasp of Central Tibet (Blondeau – Buffetrille 2002: 61–63, 68)1. This procedure represents even for the current atheistic Beijing regime the cornerstone of its policy towards Tibet policy, a demonstration of Chinese sovereignty in Tibet (Cai – Huang 2000: 63) and the milestone of the claim for historical legitimacy of the control of the whole process of search, identification and enthronement of high Tibetan Buddhist reincarnations such as Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama2. The historical continuity of Chinese approach towards Tibetan religion in general and Buddhist reincarnations in particular was recently reflected in the document entitled «Management Measures for the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism» (Chin. Zangchuan fojiao huofo zhuanshi guanli banfa; further abbreviated as MMR)3 which was approved by the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA) on 13 July 2007 and took effect from 1 September 20074. The promulgation of the MMR and the attention it draw again highlighted the complex issue of the role of Buddhist reincarnations within the political and social system of contemporary China. The MMR lists (Article 8) the «drawing lots of a golden urn» as the accepted procedure for the identification of new high reincarnation also in socialist China. Even before the promulgation of this document the ceremony of «drawing lots of a golden urn» was staged in the Lhasa Jokhang Temple as part of the process of identification of the Beijing-chosen 11th Panchen Lama in November 1995, which reflected the controversy between the Chinese authorities and Tibetan believers on the issue of new reincarnations5. The brief text of the MMR provides in 14 articles an administrative framework which should regulate the process of determining whether a search for a new reincarnation may start, the conduct of the search for a reincarnation, the recognition of a reincarnation and the obtainment of a government approval for the recogni1 Even Chinese authors acknowledge that this procedure was not used in the process of identification of the 9th and 13th Dalai Lama (Su 2001: 168–169). 2 Both the Chinese propaganda materials (Jing 1989: 11–14) and academic publications repeatedly refer to the so-called procedure of “drawing lots of a golden urn” and a number of recently published books was devoted to this issue (e.g. Cai – Huang 2000). 3 For the Chinese text of MMR see http://www.sara.gov.cn/GB//zcfg/89522ff7-409d-11dc-bafe931 80af1bb1a.html. For an English translation see http://www.savetibet.org/news/newsitem. php?id=1159. 4 These administrative measures have stirred up a considerable reaction. The Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala described the document as «ludicrous and unwarranted» and as «an attempt to further repress and undermine the religious culture of Tibet». 5 The Dalai Lama has identified Gendun Chökyi Nyima (dge ‘dun chos kyi nyi ma, b. 1989) as the 11th Panchen Lama and in disapproval the Chinese government has subsequently enthroned its candidate Gyaltshen Norbu (rgyal mtshan nor bu, 1990- ), see Tsering Shakya 1999: 440–447.


tion1. The MMR also deals with enthronement, education and religious training of a reincarnation. The aim of the MMR is to strengthen the authority of governmental bodies (the central SARA and its branches on lower administrative levels) and state-sponsored religious association (Chinese Buddhist Association) which should tighten the state control of the whole process of selection of new reincarnations and thus interfere with traditional Tibetan procedures. Another example of the «striking continuity» (Malek 1996: 197) in the Chinese religious policy and approach to Tibet is the document «Measures for the Reincarnations of Living Buddhas» (Chin: Huofo zhuanshi banfa) promulgated by the Guomindang Government’s Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission in February 1936 (Anon. 1999: 66–68). Similarly as the recently approved MMR, it also describes in great detail the search process, identification, and recognition of Tibetan Buddhist reincarnations while referring to the «golden urn» as the sole authorized selection procedure for certain lineages of Tibetan and Mongolian reincarnations. The «Measures for the Reincarnations of Living Buddhas» categorized the tulkus into various groups according to their status in Tibetan and Mongolian society and determined the administrative responsibility of Chinese governmental bodies for the final approval. According to the 1936 regulations the whole process should have been supervised by the government of the Republic of China which – according to the text – held the supreme authority on all issues related to new tulkus in Tibetan and Mongolian areas. The 1936 «Measures for the Reincarnations of Living Buddhas» should have served as another example of the assertion of China’s fictitious sovereignty over Tibet2. The incorporation of Tibet into the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949– 1951 gradually resulted in dramatic changes of traditional Tibetan society, including the status of Tibetan Buddhist dignitaries. Except of the vague guarantees of the 17Point Agreement, according to which the Beijing government «will not alter the established status, functions and powers» (Tsering Shakya 1999: 450) of the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, the legal status of other tulkus was not tackled in any laws or regulations. In 1958–1959 in the course of the so-called «democratic reform of the religious system» (Chin. zongjiao zhidu minzhu gaige), in fact a large-scale antireligious campaign which started in Tibetan periphery (Amdo and Kham) and in spring 1959 spread to Central Tibet, hundreds of tulkus were stripped of their religious status and economic base, later to be removed of the closed monasteries and imprisoned3. The issue of the role and selection of tulkus in the PRC re-emerged in late 1980s dur1 This process should be concluded by the Chinese Buddhist Association which will issue a «Living Buddha certificate» (Chin. huofo zhengshu) to the accepted candidate, see Article 10 of the MMR. 2 The 10th Panchen Lama was enthroned in the Kumbum (sku ‘bum) Monastery in Qinghai in August 1949, shortly before the fall of the Republican government. The process was indeed supervised by the Chinese government but the candidate was chosen without the «golden urn» procedure. The preceding 9th Panchen Lama escaped from Central Tibet to China in 1923 where he died in 1937, thus the Chinese government (despite protests from Lhasa) could control the selection of the next candidate (Lin 2006: 200–201). 3 For details see Slobodník 2007: 81–87.


ing the religious revival in Tibetan areas. The fact that many lineages of religious teachers were interrupted during the turmoil of late 1950s and 1960s and loudly voiced demands of monastic and lay communities for the search for new holders of a particular lineage resulted in the renewal of the selection process in Tibetan areas in 1990. Although the issue of the identification of new reincarnations gained a broader attention only in regard to the enthronement of the 17th Karmapa Ugyen Thinle Dorje (karma pa dbu rgyan ‘phrin las rdo rje, b. 1985) in July 1992 and the abovementioned controversy surrounding the selection of the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995, numbers of other local reincarnations were identified and enthroned since 1990 without causing serious tensions between the authorities and the local Tibetan population1. These local reincarnations have played an important role in the revival of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in rural areas. Although in 1990s there appeared a number of laws, regulations and measures with the aim to regulate the religious life of various state sanctioned religions in China, till the recently approved MMR there did not exist any regulation which would provide an administrative framework for the process of selection, identification and enthronement of tulkus. However, internal materials drafted by governmental (Religious Affairs Bureaux) and Party (United Front departments) bodies in 1990s have in great detail described the process of selection, identification and enthronement of reincarnations (Anon. 1998: 193–199). Though these documents were never officially disclosed and cannot be considered either administrative measures or regulations, they established a praxis followed by Chinese authorities since early 1990s. According to these materials, the whole process should be conducted under the guidance of the Chinese Communist Party, a point which is not openly stated in the recently approved MMR. The principle of non-interference of foreign organizations or individuals (Article 2 of the MMR) is also described in great detail, while these internal materials openly state that the aim is to completely eliminate the influence of the Dalai Lama or the government in exile2. According to this established praxis the governmental agencies (mainly SARA and its provincial branches) are responsible for the creation of a register of the tulkus which are allowed to be reincarnated. Internal materials outline in great detail the approval procedure for the application for the search of a new reincarnation and the subsequent identification process. As it is the case in the MMR (Article 5) these internal materials categorize the various lineages of tulkus according to their influence in the Tibetan society (local, provincial, all-Tibetan) and designate the particular administrative bodies in the hierarchy of the


For an example of the circumstances related to the enthronement of a local tulku – the 7th Gungthang Rinpoche Lozang Geleg Tenpe Khenchen (gung thang rin po che blo bzang dge legs bstan pa’i mhkan chen, b. 2002) – from the Labrang in November 2006 see Slobodník 2006. 2 [The revival of the process of identification of new reincarnations in 1991] «…was particularly endorsed by the religious circles and the masses of believers as the identification of a new reincarnation fulfilled expectations of a certain group of believers, thus effectively reducing the political plots of the Dalai clique in Tibetan areas related to the identification of tulkus, and striking at the purpose of the Dalai clique to exploit the identification of tulkus for conspiratorial activities aimed at splitting the motherland» (Anon. 1998: 194). 342

Religious Affairs Bureaux to held the authority of the approval1. According to these materials the final decision on the most important reincarnations (i. e., Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama) lies in the hands of the State Council of the PRC, the highest executive body. As illustrated by the example of the Beijing-chosen Panchen Lama in 1995, these principles have been implemented in the praxis and the current MMR also in this point only ratifies the status quo. The dull and highly detailed set of bureaucratic regulations to which the process of the search and identification of reincarnations should be subordinated provides a stark contrast between the administrative perception of religion by the state bodies in charge and the spiritual understanding of Tibetan people and the Buddhist clergy. In sum, the brief text of the MMR does not represent any substantial change in the administration of the process of selection, identification and enthronement of reincarnations in Tibet. The high degree of interference of government bodies into this primarily religious matter has been an established praxis since the very beginning of the revival of the search of new reincarnations in the early 1990s. The fact that the established praxis has been now summarized in the MMR and made public may be interpreted as a direct outcome of the «Religious Affairs Regulations» (Chin. Zongjiao shiwu tiaoli) adopted by the State Council on 7 July 2004 which took effect on 1 March 20052. The «Religious Affairs Regulations» represent an attempt to provide a general administrative and legal framework for state sanctioned religions in China while it deals with such topics as religious bodies, sites for religious activities, religious personnel, religious property and legal liability. The regulations do not provide detailed procedures and measures for matters related to individual religious traditions. The only reference to Tibetan Buddhism is in Article 27 and states, with regard to reincarnations: «the succession of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism shall be conducted under the guidance of Buddhist bodies and in accordance with the religious rites and rituals and historical conventions and be reported for approval to the religious affairs department of the people’s government». The recently approved MMR was formulated in accordance with these regulations (see Article 1). Since March 2005, when the «Religious Affairs Regulations» took effect a number of other measures were drafted which deal in greater detail with such issues as religious personnel and sites of religious activities. Some of them, similarly as the MMR, deal specifically with the religious personnel of a particular religious tradition. However, the measures for Protestant churches and Islam approved in summer 2006 were drafted by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of the Protestant Churches in China and the Chinese Islamic Association respectively, i. e., by the religious associations recognized (and controlled) by the government3. In contrast, the MMR was approved by the SARA, the central governmental body in charge, which may serve as a proof of the cautious approach of 1 These instructions also deal with the social background of the future reincarnations and explicitly warn that new reincarnations should not be searched for between children of Party cadres on county and higher administrative levels and children of public officials on town and higher administrative levels (Anon. 1998: 1995). 2 For the Chinese text and English translation see: Chan – Carlson 2005: 71–87. 3 For a German translations of these measures see: «China heute». Vol. 26 (2007). No. 1–2. Р. 23–33.


the authorities to Tibetan Buddhism in general, and to the issue of reincarnations in particular1. Thus this SARA document seems to be the first one drafted after the implementation of the «Religious Affairs Regulations» which was specifically tailored for a particular religious tradition. According to Party and governmental documents on religious policy in Tibetan areas, the control of the process of search, identification, recognition and education of new tulkus is a crucial task of the Chinese Tibet policy (Gong 1998: 351–352). After the publication of the MMR Western commentators and exiled Tibetans correctly interpreted the new measures mainly with regard to the search for the 15th Dalai Lama which will undoubtedly present a major issue in the future of Tibetan community both in the PRC and in exile. However, one should bear in mind also the dozens of local tulkus which have played an important religious and social role in their local communities. The Chinese state is well aware of the traditional authority a tulku enjoys within both the monastic and lay community, therefore these Buddhist hierarchs are in the centre of Beijing’s religious policy in Tibet. The Chinese authorities repeatedly stress the importance of the education of young tulkus who should not be influenced by the government in exile and should become loyal to the Chinese regime. For these purposes provincial Buddhist Institutes (Chin. foxueyuan) established in 1980s and the highest state-sponsored educational institution for Tibetan Buddhist reincarnations and monks, namely the Chinese Tibetan Language Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies (Chin. Zhongguo Zangyuxi gaoji foxueyuan), founded in 1987 by the late 10th Panchen Lama, should provide the Tibetan reincarnations and monks with high-level education not only in the field of Buddhist studies, but the state authorities simultaneously strive to educate influential Tibetan religious authorities in loyalty to the Chinese state and the Party. The ideological criteria listed in Article 2 of the MMR (respect and protection of the unity of the state, unity of minorities) reflect the «politically correct» profile of the successful candidate. From the perception of the authorities the Tibetan reincarnations represent important «middlemen» between the Chinese state and Tibetans, therefore they have been installed to various positions in such bodies as People’s Congress, People’s Political Consultative Conference, Buddhist Association on central, provincial and prefectural levels. The installation of various Tibetan reincarnations into these positions should illustrate the preferential treatment of minorities by the state in general and the respect towards traditional Tibetan hierarchs in particular, but at the same time the state authorities want to use the high esteem of the reincarnation in Tibetan eyes in order to legitimize the policy of central government in Tibetan areas and pursue their political and economical aims2. According to the perception of Chinese

authorities the Tibetan Buddhist reincarnations embody political interests of the state in Tibetan areas and therefore their selection should be controlled by the state. This understanding of the role of reincarnations is reflected also by the statement of a SARA official after the announcement of the MMR: «The government only administrates religious affairs related to state and the public interests and will not interfere in the pure internal religious affairs» (Xinhua, 4 August 2007). Thus the selection of a new tulku is for Chinese authorities an affair related to the state which should be therefore in complete charge of it. The future will show whether after the implementation of the MMR there will be left enough space to accommodate both the interests of the local community of believers and the state authorities in order to select a consensual candidate, as was the case for instance in the selection of the 7th Gungthang Rinpoche. The MMR may also serve as another demonstration that after the disputes about the selection of the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995, the Beijing government strives to have a firm grasp over the future search for a new Dalai Lama in order to prevent possible tensions within Tibet which are, however, inevitable1. Bibliography Anonymous. Zangchuan fojiao aiguozhuyi jiaoyu xuexi xuanchuan cailiao. Lanzhou: Gansu sheng zongjiao shiwuju, 1998. Anonymous. Regulations of the Republic of China Concerning Rule over Tibet (1912–1949). Beijing: Wuzhou chuanbo chubanshe, 1999. Anonymous. The Communist Party as Living Buddha. The Crisis Facing Tibetan Religion under Chinese Control. Washington; Berlin: International Campaign for Tibet, 2007. Blondeau A.-M., Buffetrille K. Le Tibet est-il chinois? Paris: A. Michel, 2002. Cai Zhichun, Huang Hao. Huofo zhuanshi. Beijing: Huawen chubanshe, 2000. Chan Kim-kwong, Carlson E. B. Religious Freedom in China: Policy, Administration, and Regulation. A Research Handbook. Santa Barbara: Institute for the Study of American Religion, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Institute for Culture, Commerce and Religion, 2005. Dabringhaus S. Chinese Emperors and Tibetan Monks: Religion as an Instrument of Rule // China and Her Neighbours. Borders, Visions of the Other, Foreign Policy 10th to 19th Century / Ed. by S. Dabringhaus, R. Ptak, R. Teschke. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1997. P. 119–134. Goldstein M. C. A History of Modern Tibet, 1913–1951. The Demise of the Lamaist State. Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989. Gong Xuezeng. Dangdai Zhongguo minzu zongjiao wenti yanjiu. Beijing: Zhonggong zhongyang dangxiao chubanshe, 1998. Jiang Ping et al. Xizang de zongjiao he Zhongguo gongchandang de zongjiao zhengce. Beijing: Zhongguo zangxue chubanshe, 1996. Jing Wei. 100 Questions about Tibet. Beijing: Beijing Review Press, 1989.

1 The TAR People’s Government drafted in September 2006 provisional measures for the implementation of the «Religious Affairs Regulations» and it took effect on 1 January 2007. It is another attempt to tailor a detailed administrative and legal framework for a given religion which should be in accordance with the «Religious Affairs Regulations». These measures deal also with the issue of reincarnations (Articles 36–40). For an English translation see Anon. 2007: 89–98. 2 There are numerous examples of this practice from the period of Imperial and Republican China when the government granted lofty titles to Tibetan reincarnations and strived to use them as a tool in the pursuit of Chinese political aims in Tibet, see: Wang 2000; Lin 2006: 89.

1 In order to diminish the role of Chinese authorities, the 14th Dalai Lama mentioned the possibility to appoint a successor during his lifetime (AFP, 20 November 2007), but his remark was immediately condemned by Chinese authorities as a violation of religious rituals and historic conventions (Reuters, 22 November 2007).



Lin Hsiao-ting. Tibet and Nationalist China's Frontier: Intrigues and Ethnopolitics, 1928–1949. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2006. Malek R. Das Tao des Himmels. Die religiöse Tradition Chinas. Freiburg: Herder, 1996. Phuntsog W. The Influence of Religion on Tibetan Politics // The Tibet Journal. (1975). Vol. I. No. 1. P. 78–81. Rahul R. The Role of Lamas in Central Asian Politics // Central Asiatic Journal (1969). Vol. XII. No. 3. P. 209–227. Samuel G. Civilized Shamans. Buddhism in Tibetan Societies. Washington; London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993. Shakabpa Ts. W. D. Tibet. A Political History. New York: Potala Publications, 1988. Slobodník M. Inthronisierung des 7. Gungthang // China heute (2006). Vol. 25. No. 4–5. P. 131–132. Slobodník M. Mao a Buddha: náboženská politika voči tibetskému buddhizmu v Číne. Bratislava: Chronos, 2007. Su Faxiang. Qingdai zhi Zang zhengce yanjiu. Beijing: Minzu chubanshe, 2001. Tsering Sh. The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet since 1947. London: Pimlico, 1999. Wang Xiangyun. The Qing Court’s Tibet Connection: Lcang skya Rol pa’i rdo rje and the Qianlong Emperor // Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (2000). Vol. 60. No. 1. P. 125–163. Zhang Yuxin. Qing zhengfu yu lamajiao. Lhasa: Xizang renmin chubanshe, 1988.