Qinghai party official reveals government drive to re-educate or punish monks
In the aftermath of the Tibet uprisings, mainland authorities see things could have been done differently, and they know that a difficult task lies before them. That task is one of better control.
This is why Beijing has stepped up its oversight of Tibetan monasteries, which it has blamed for escalating the violence in the recent anti-government protests.
The increased supervision is part of a campaign whose dual goals - as commanded by the top leadership - are 'to educate, rehabilitate and salvage as many as possible of the majority of Buddhist monks who have been politically deceived by 'the Dalai clique's' separatist plots on the one hand, and to separate and punish rigorously the few diehard supporters of the Dalai Lama'.
Or, as Bai Ma, chairman of the Qinghai provincial committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, put it: 'This is a fight against the Dalai Lama by winning the hearts and minds of the people in Tibetan-populated areas.'
So, teams of leading local officials have been sent to Buddhist monasteries in Tibet , Qinghai , Sichuan and Gansu populated by ethnic Tibetans.
The campaign, which targets monks who took part in the worst protests in 20 years and their monasteries, is expected to last until the end of the Olympic Games in August, said Bai Ma, an ethnic Tibetan.
'Unlike the previous patriotic education campaigns which focused on positive examples [of ethnic unity and support for the government], the new drive emphasises religion and education in the law, and is carefully targeted,' he said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
Local Communist Party officials at the prefecture and county levels would help Buddhist monks 'realise their mistakes and figure out how to rectify them', he said. Teams would then evaluate the campaign.
The daily management of the monasteries, which were heavily involved in the massive protests in Lhasa and neighbouring provinces, was also part of the government strategy.
'The unrest exposed serious problems in our management of monasteries, especially at the grass-roots level,' Bai Ma said. 'Local authorities are either unwilling, or lack the ability, to come to the fore in dealing with Buddhist monasteries and take responsibility. Some are even afraid of doing the job because of its nature as a sensitive political issue.
'We have begun pilot projects to research new ways of controlling monasteries and treating them like other social organisations.'
The protests, which broke out among Buddhist monks in Lhasa early last month, marked the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Beijing, during which the Dalai Lama fled to India. Those protests escalated into riots across areas inhabited by Tibetans a few days later.
'It is regrettable that authorities in Lhasa failed to take firm action to control the situation during the first few hours of the March 14 riots,' said Bai Ma, who has close contact with the leadership in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
He added to early speculation that authorities in Lhasa appeared indecisive in acting because they had to wait for orders from Beijing. The fact that the region's party boss and the chairman were attending the National People's Congress in Beijing at the time only complicated matters.
Although government officials in Lhasa have been keen to deny the claim, Bai Ma said he learned from a senior official in Lhasa, who was transferred from Qinghai two years ago, that the scale of the March 14 riots had surprised the authorities.
'They had controlled the protesting monks in the major monasteries in Lhasa since March 10, but they were unprepared for the massive street protests which escalated into violence within a few hours,' he said.
'They did not have enough police or effective means to confront rioters. They had guns, but they could not open fire without permission from above,' Bai Ma claimed.
Similar riots and unrest spurred by a lack of resources and serious lapses in communication between the central and local governments during crises have broken out in Lhasa several times in the past two decades, according to Bai Ma. 'But lessons have yet to be learned.'
But the former security chief of the province was confident that a similar situation could never happen in Qinghai because the government and police had been on high alert ahead of the Olympics.
'We will try our best to avoid mass incidents from happening. If something does happen, we are fully capable of taking decisive action.'
He and a senior party official from Yushu Tibetan prefecture, a southern Qinghai region bordering Tibet, agreed that apart from pointing the finger at the Dalai Lama and his followers, the government's ineffective education was also to blame for the unrest.
'It is true that 'the Dalai clique' has never stopped their separatist attempts. They began inciting protests in the region by telephone and other communications last year, especially among the younger generation of monks,' Bai Ma said.
Most of the monks who took part in the protests were under 25, and few monasteries led by senior lamas were found to be involved, according to the officials.
The Yushu official, who declined to be named, claimed that young monks usually knew little about Tibet's history, especially 'the dark days under the rule of the Dalai Lama before 1959'.
Quoting a famous remark by the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in the late 1980s that the biggest mistake since the reform and opening-up was made in the field of education, the official noted that young Tibetan monks were not that different from their social counterparts.
'Young monks are more eager to be involved in social affairs, unlike older lamas, who concentrate on their own inner world of peace,' Bai Ma said. 'Some even resume secular lives temporarily to help their families during the harvest season.
'Our education system has done rather poorly in conveying historical and traditional knowledge to the younger generation, and we have come across similar difficulties in educating young monks.'
Unlike other Tibetan-inhabited areas, many parts of Qinghai have not been that affected by the protests, according to Bai Ma.
Only 15 out of more than 700 monasteries in the province and about 5 per cent of the monk population had been involved. The worst hit were Longwu, in Huangnan Tibetan prefecture, and Baiyu, in Guoluo Tibetan prefecture.
Only a handful of Buddhist monks had taken to the streets and carried a 'reactionary flag' - the snow-lion flag of independent Tibet - but Bai Ma said things had calmed down quickly with the help of local residents, including Tibetans.
But the situation in Lhasa's landmark monasteries of Drepung and Sera remained tense, Bai Ma said, as the education campaign there was running into problems.
'It seems stable at the moment because of the heavy troops presence, but the question is how long can it last,' he said. 'The heavy-handed and arbitrary tactics [of the government] only create more animosity.'