UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Tibetan Buddhism and Chinese Communist Party authority : the fundamental problem of Dalai Lama leadership Brasnett, Jonathan


Tibet has been under the administrative control of the People’s Republic of China since 1950. The Seventeen-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, signed in 1951, promised autonomy to Tibetans, as well as the freedom to practice their religion, Tibetan Buddhism. In practice, however, the PRC has not allowed this autonomy or freedom of religion to Tibetans within its borders. The identity of the Tibetan people is largely based on their strong religiosity, manifested in their reverence of their leadership institutions: the Dalai Lama and to a lesser extent, the Panchen Lama. As the PRC government has sought to suppress religion and control religious practices, it has exerted a stricter level of control over the religions perceived as ‘foreign,’ of which Tibetan Buddhism is one. This strict control of ‘foreign’ religions (specifically their leadership institutions) has manifested in the defamation and coercive manipulation of the Dalai and Panchen Lama institutions, in order for the Chinese Communist Party to maintain its control over Tibet. This thesis asks why the CCP perceives the control of these leadership institutions as necessary for achieving its broader policy goals. Through an in-depth review and analysis of relevant literature, this thesis will argue that the strong religiosity of Tibetans and the corresponding politico-religious power wielded by the Dalai and Panchen Lama leadership institutions are perceived as threats by the CCP. The power of Tibetan Buddhism and its leadership institution, as well as the identity they instill in Tibetans, threatens not only the CCP’s control over the resource-rich region, but also its legitimacy as the unique governing power over a secular, unified China. To the Chinese government in Beijing, allowing the Dalai and Panchen Lamas the freedom to return to Tibet, whether in body or just through the worship of Tibetan Buddhists, would be tantamount to losing its control over the entire region.

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