On September 19, 2023, the first Tibet Forum on the Consciousness of the Chinese Community was inaugurated in Lhasa, Tibet, with the stated goal of "Casting the Chinese Soul and Creating a Model Area." it's crucial to examine the objectives and implications of this forum in a broader context.
The forum was organized and sponsored by the Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region of the Communist Party of China and the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region. This fact highlights the heavy involvement of the Chinese government in shaping the discourse on the "Consciousness of the Chinese Community." Given the Chinese government's history of tight control over information and narratives, it is crucial to consider for propaganda and censorship within such an event.
It is essential to recognize that Tibet has a distinct cultural and ethnic identity, and efforts to impose a uniform "Chinese consciousness" risk erasing this uniqueness and further marginalizing Tibetan voices.
While the stated theme of the forum, "Casting the Chinese Soul and Creating a Model Area," may sound positive on the surface, it's essential to question what this theme truly represents. Is it about cultural exchange and mutual understanding, or is it an effort to further assimilate Tibetan culture into the broader Chinese identity? The wording of the theme desire to mold Tibet into a particular Chinese image.
The fact that high-ranking government officials delivered speeches at the opening ceremony, including Duan Yijun of the National Ethnic Affairs Commission and Wang Junzheng, the Secretary of the Party Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region, underscores the political nature of the event. Such speeches are to reflect the official party line, and they not fully represent the diverse views and concerns of Tibetans and other ethnic groups in the region.
A Chinese Nation Community Consciousness Building Research Center has been inaugurated in occupied Tibet. The center, which is located in the regional capital of Lhasa, is aimed at promoting what the Chinese Communist Party calls "national consciousness" among the Tibetan people.
According to state media reports, the center will research how to promote a sense of "community consciousness" among Tibetans, focusing on promoting the Chinese government's policies in the region. The center will also organize training programs for Tibetan officials and intellectuals on how to promote these policies effectively.
Shortly after the annexation of Tibet by the People’s Liberation Army, the Communist Government in Beijing began to tighten its grip over the region. Over the decades, China has used economic development as a plank, and attempted to transfer large number of Han Chinese people into Tibet, and combined this with suppression of elements of Tibetan culture and religion. Scholars term this process as ‘Sinicization’ whereas Tibetan groups prefer calling it a ‘cultural genocide’.
This is part of CCP's official attempts to Sinicize Tibetan Buddhism, culture, education and traditions. In December 2022, Chinese official Wang Junzheng emphasized the importance of continuing the sinicization of Buddhism in Tibet and expanding the "Three Consciousness" educational activities in the region. Speaking at a meeting in Lhasa, Junzheng urged officials to strengthen their efforts to consolidate and expand the campaign, which seeks to teach Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns about national consciousness, citizen consciousness, and rule of law consciousness.
According to Bitter Winter's article, the campaign, which began in May 2022, is seen as a response to the growing success of the Tibetan non-violent resistance movement. The CCP is concerned that Tibetan religious figures may be supporting the movement and encouraging resistance to Chinese rule in the region.
Tibetan religious figures have been subjected to re-education programs before, but this campaign is seen as more extreme. Monks and nuns are being asked to renounce and condemn traditional Tibetan Buddhist practices, including Tsethar, the practice of releasing animals from captivity, and Saka Dawa, a holy month of fasting and abstaining from meat.
Many Tibetans see this campaign as an attempt to strip them of their religious and cultural identity, and force them to accept Chinese rule. Tibetan human rights groups have criticized the campaign, stating that it violates religious freedom and human rights.
While the event is described as an opportunity for "exchange of ideas" and "discussions," it is important to note that it is organized by government entities. This limit the diversity of perspectives and voices represented at the forum, excluding critical viewpoints.
It is important to remain vigilant about the implications of such events on the Tibetan culture, identity, and autonomy. The Chinese government has a history of implementing policies in Tibet that have been criticized for eroding Tibetan cultural and religious practices.
Edited and collated by Team TRC