Wednesday, December 26, 2012

You don't see this often in US media: Tibetan Buddhism in Beijing

I had missed this post in the NY Times/International Herald Tribune dated November 29th.  It's worthy of note because it demonstrates that the China-Tibet relationship is far more intertwined than what is often made out to be, and that the average (Han) Chinese person has a far different view of Tibet than what is often presented in the US.

On a freezing Tuesday this week, dozens of special guests from China’s cultural, political and business elites gathered within the blood-red walls of the Forbidden City. They were there for the opening of the newly restored Hall of Rectitude, the center of Tibetan Buddhism during China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing.
After a fire in 1923, the hall and about a half-dozen surrounding buildings that comprise the Buddhist architectural complex lay in ruin for nearly a century in the northwestern corner of the 8,000-room former imperial palace... 
As I mingled in the crowd in the Forbidden City on Tuesday afternoon, I heard, once or twice, the words “Dalai Lama” spoken quietly, seriously — and one such mention turned into an impassioned discussion about “why the Dalai Lama doesn’t like China,” among three visitors who looked Chinese and spoke Mandarin, as they looked at Tibetan tangkas, or religious paintings, in one of the new galleries... 
Much of China’s claim to Tibet rests on the close relationship that existed between Beijing and Lhasa during the reign of three Qing emperors — Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong — in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s religious leader, exercised great influence on the emperors during that time, in a patron-priest relationship...

This is not the only Tibetan temple in Beijing, either.  Most importantly, there is the "Lama Temple," which I visited several years ago, and again, discussion of the situation in Tibet wasn't discouraged, at least in one tour group I had overheard. The Lama Temple is huge. Point is, there's a lot of Tibetan Buddhism in China outside of Tibet,  not even near Tibet.  And also the point should be made that China's traditional relationship to religion was the political and religious were strongly intertwined; this happened before the Communist era, and those patronized religions weren't considered "false" because they were patronized. 
All of that said, it would be good for some kind of modus vivendi to be worked out between the Tibetans and Chinese.  That part of the world has more than enough problems right now.  Then again the same is true for people everywhere.

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