Tibetans urged to abandon religion

The Tibetan authorities have launched a new propaganda campaign to persuade Tibetans to adopt atheism. A meeting of the propaganda department of the Party in Lhasa on 8 January decreed that
atheism is necessary to promote economic development in the region and to assist the struggle against the influence of the Dalai Lama. The launch of the propaganda drive was announced on the same day as the
Beijing authorities reaffirmed their policy of protecting freedom of religious belief.
The campaign to encourage the spread of atheism is further evidence of the authorities’ concern over the private loyalties of Tibetan cadres and their failure to eradicate Tibetans’ support for the Dalai Lama. It
represents a strengthening of the anti-Dalai Lama campaign in Tibet, and is aimed not only at Tibetan cadres but also at ordinary members of society. “It is an important measure to strengthen the struggle against
separatists, to resolutely resist the Dalai clique’s reactionary infiltration, and to help peasants and herdsmen free themselves from the negative influence of religion,” it was stated at the meeting and reported by Tibet TV in Lhasa on 10 January, indicating that the campaign is aimed at rural as well as urban areas.
The campaign, which will run for a three-year period, aims to use the media and different work units to spread the word on atheism. Ragdi stated last year that to be an atheist is not enough; Communist officials have to actively promote atheism. “As Communists, we cannot hold that all is well because we merely announce that we are atheists, rather needing to make bold propaganda about Marxist atheism, insisting on indoctrinating the peasant and herdsman masses in the Marxist stand on religion,” he announced in a speech to the regional Party committee on 15 November 1998.
It has long been obligatory for Communist Party members in China and Tibet to be atheists. Tibet Party Secretary Chen Kuiyuan said in 1994: “The Party’s religious affairs policy remains and will remain unchanged.
The policy that Communist Party members must be atheists is long-standing.” In the same year, the Third Forum on Work in Tibet stated: “Although the Communist Party respects the religious beliefs of the masses of non-Party members, every Party member should persevere with his or her proletarian world outlook of materialism and atheism”.
Previous campaigns over the past eight years, which have focused on the need to ensure that Party members are atheists, have been implemented despite warnings from moderate Party members that attempting to force atheism on Party members would undermine the Party. In May 1994, a Tibetan politician, Rongwo Lobsang Dondrub, warned the Chinese authorities that such a crackdown on religion could be counter-productive. “We shouldn’t forget that during the Cultural Revolution, atheism was publicised on a large scale amongst the masses, but got the opposite result,” Rongwo Lobsang Dondrub told a session of the Tibet branch of the Political Consultative Conference. “Instead of accepting atheism, the aftermath amongst the masses had grave consequences. It is time for us to learn these lessons.”
The latest propaganda campaign also targets the traditional relationship between Tibetans and their lamas or religious teachers. Ragdi gave the following example in his November speech: “In one village in Linzhou (known as Lhundrub in Tibetan) county in 1997, a peasant asked a lama to perform a divination before the wheat harvest. The lama said that the harvest could not start, which had an adverse effect of the farming season by leaving the wheat subject to a disastrous hailstorm. Such religious interference, causing production losses that affect the dissemination of new technology, is quite common throughout Tibet. Emancipating the masses from such superstition, to firmly stop and root out such sorcery, is a principle that we Party members and officials need to pursue,” Ragdi said in the speech (Tibet Daily, 24 November 1998). It is stipulated in the Chinese Constitution that the state only protects “normal religious activities”. Oracles and divination have long been considered by the authorities to be “superstitious” religious beliefs and are usually prohibited.
Party officials including Ragdi claim frequently that there is freedom of religion in Tibet. Ye Xiaowen, director of China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs, outlined the Chinese government’s policy of protecting freedom of religious belief during a meeting in Beijing with a visiting US official on 8 January, the same day as the propaganda department meeting on encouraging atheism. Xinhua quoted him as saying: “The Chinese government guarantees Chinese citizens’ freedom of religious belief in line with the constitution and laws.”

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