The United States recognizes the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in other provinces to be a part of the People’s Republic of China. The Department of State follows these designations in its reporting. The preservation and development of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage and the protection of its people’s fundamental human rights continue to be of concern.
Respect for Integrity of the Person
The Government’s human rights record in Tibetan areas of China remained poor. However, in positive developments, the Government permitted a third visit to the country by the Dalai Lama’s representatives and released some political prisoners, including Tibetan Buddhist nun Phuntsog Nyidrol. The Government controlled information about all Tibetan areas, and in addition, strictly controlled access to the TAR, making it difficult to determine accurately the scope of human rights abuses. Authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killing, torture, arbitrary arrest, detention without public trial, and lengthy detention of Tibetans for peacefully expressing their political or religious views. The overall level of repression of religious freedom in the TAR remained high. Conditions generally were less restrictive in Tibetan areas outside of the TAR, although there were some exceptions. Individuals accused of political activism faced ongoing harassment during the year. There were reports of imprisonment and abuse of some nuns and monks accused of political activism. Security was intensified during sensitive anniversaries and festival days in some areas, and activities viewed as vehicles for political dissent, including celebration of some religious festivals, were suppressed. There were reports of small-scale political protests in a number of Tibetan areas.
The lack of independent access to prisoners and prisons made it difficult to ascertain the number of Tibetan political prisoners or to assess the extent and severity of abuses. The Tibet Information Network (TIN) estimated that approximately 145 Tibetans were imprisoned on political grounds, approximately two-thirds of whom were monks or nuns. Approximately 60 political prisoners remained in TAR Prison in Lhasa, most serving sentences on the charge of “counterrevolution,” which was dropped from the Criminal Law in 1997. Chinese authorities have stated that acts previously prosecuted as counterrevolutionary crimes continue to be considered crimes under China’s anti-subversion laws. TIN’s analysis indicated that the majority of Tibetan political prisoners were incarcerated in Lhasa and western Sichuan Province. The overall number of political prisoners in Tibetan areas dropped slightly compared to 2003, according to this analysis, but rose in Tibetan autonomous areas of Sichuan Province in connection with several high-profile cases.
In October, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that police in Qinghai’s Golog Prefecture shot and killed Tibetan Buddhist religious leader Shetsul after he and other monks demanded that the police pay for medical treatment for injuries suffered while in custody.
In January, RFA reported that authorities in Sichuan’s Tawu County, Kardze Prefecture, had arrested students Nyima Dorjee and Lobsang Dorjee for putting up pro-independence posters on local government buildings.
On February 12, Choeden Rinzen, a young monk at Lhasa’s Ganden Monastery, reportedly was arrested for possession of a picture of the Dalai Lama and a Tibetan national flag.
In April, RFA reported that authorities in Qinghai’s Tsolho Prefecture had arrested Tibetan singer Namkha, as well as composer and Tibetan Buddhist monk Bakocha, for their music’s implicit political content. Authorities reportedly confiscated CDs of Namkha and Bakocha’s music. Authorities released both individuals in early May.
In May, Chinese state media reported that authorities jailed a Tibetan named Penpa after he admitted to causing a May 20 explosion near a television tower near Lhasa.
In September, RFA reported that authorities in Sichuan’s Kardze Prefecture sentenced Tibetan Buddhist monks Chogri and Topden and layman Lobsang Tsering to 3-year jail terms for putting up pro-independence posters. The three were reportedly among a group of 60 individuals detained on July 27 at a reception ceremony at Chogri Monastery in Draggo County, Kardze. Witnesses claimed that police beat some of those detained. It was believed that the other 57 individuals initially detained had been released by year’s end.
Also in September, authorities in the TAR’s Nagchu Prefecture reportedly arrested Tibetans Dejor, Tsering Dawa, and Datsok after a clash with Chinese workers over a mining project. They reportedly also arrested Tibetans Nyima Tenzen and Sonam Nyidup, who protested the detention by shouting pro-independence slogans in a bar.
On February 24, authorities released Tibetan Buddhist nun Phuntsog Nyidrol from Lhasa’s TAR Prison (also known as Drapchi Prison) approximately 1 year before her sentence was due to expire. She had received a 9-year sentence for taking part in a peaceful demonstration in support of the Dalai Lama in 1989. Authorities extended her sentence to 17 years after she and other nuns recorded songs about their devotion to Tibet and the Dalai Lama in 1993 but reduced that sentence by 1 year in 2001 According to Human Rights Watch, following her release, the Chinese government imposed restrictions on Phuntsog Nyidrol’s movement and association.
On April 18, authorities reportedly released Tibetan Buddhist monk Ngawang Oezer from TAR Prison upon completion of his 15-year sentence for participating in pro-independence activities at Drepung Monastery.
In August, observers confirmed the release of Kunchok Choephel Labrang and Jigme Jamtruk, two monks from Labrang Tashikyil Monastery, Gansu Province. Authorities reportedly arrested the monks in April 2003 for possessing booklets containing speeches of the Dalai Lama.
In October, authorities released Geshe Sonam Phuntsog, a religious leader from Darge Monastery in Kardze County, Kardze Prefecture, Sichuan Province. Authorities arrested Sonam Phuntsog in 1999 and sentenced him to a 5-year term for “inciting splittism,” traveling to India to visit the Dalai Lama, and holding long-life prayer ceremonies for the Dalai Lama.
During the year, authorities did not respond to international calls for an inquiry into the case of Nyima Dragpa. A monk from Nyatso Monastery in Sichuan’s Kardze Prefecture, Nyima Dragpa died in custody in October 2003, allegedly from injuries sustained during severe beatings.
On January 15, Yeshe Gyatso, a former member of the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, died at his home in Lhasa at the age of 71. TAR authorities had arrested Yeshi Gyatso in June 2003 on charges of splittism and sentenced him to 6 years’ imprisonment but released him in November 2003 in ill health.
Prominent religious leader Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, arrested in April 2002 for his alleged connection to a series of bombings, remained imprisoned under a death sentence with a 2-year reprieve, although officials indicated to international observers in December that his suspended death sentence would likely be commuted to life in prison in accordance with Chinese law and practice. Tenzin Deleg’s former associate, Lobsang Dondrub, was executed on January 26, 2003, for his part in the alleged bombings. Lobsang Dondrub’s execution occurred despite Chinese Government assurances that both individuals would be afforded full due process, and that the national-level Supreme People’s Court would review their sentences.
Many other political prisoners also remained in prison or detention at year’s end, including former Tibet University student Lobsang Tenzin, arrested in 1988 in connection with the death of a policeman during riots in Lhasa and currently surving an 18-year sentence in the TAR’s Pome Prison; Tibetan Buddhist monk Jigme Gyatso, arrested in 1996 for founding a Tibetan youth organization and serving a 15-year sentence in Lhasa’s TAR Prison; farmers Sonam Dorje and Lhundrub Dorje, arrested in 1992 for unfurling a Tibetan flag and shouting pro-independence slogans, respectively serving 15- and 13-year sentences at TAR Prison; and monks Kalsang Dondrub and Ngawang Dondrub, sentenced in 2003 on charges of “endangering state security” for nonviolent political activities. Chadrel Rinpoche, released in 2002 after 6 years and 6 months in prison for leaking information about the selection of the Panchen Lama, was reportedly still under house arrest near Lhasa. Requests to meet with him by foreign government officials continued to be denied.
As in the rest of China, the security apparatus employed torture and degrading treatment in dealing with some detainees and prisoners. Detainees released in 2003 reported credibly that officials used electric shocks, prolonged periods of solitary confinement, incommunicado detention beatings, and other forms of abuse. Tibetans repatriated to China from Nepal in May 2003 reportedly suffered torture, including electric shocks, exposure to cold, and severe beatings, and were forced to perform heavy physical labor. Their family members also were pressured for bribes to secure their release. Prisoners were subjected routinely to “political investigation” sessions and were punished if deemed to be insufficiently loyal to the State.
Legal safeguards for Tibetans detained or imprisoned were the same as those in the rest of China and were inadequate in both design and implementation. Most judges had little or no legal training. Authorities worked to address this problem through increased legal education opportunities. According to an official of the TAR Higher People’s Court, all seven cities and prefectures had established legal assistance centers, and 1,248 residents had received assistance by the end of 2003. However, some persons accused of political and other crimes did not have legal representation. Moreover, their trials were cursory and were closed if issues of state security were involved. Under the law, maximum prison sentences for crimes such as “endangering state security” and “splitting the country” were 15 years for each count, not to exceed 20 years in total. Such cases mainly concerned actions perceived to be in support of Tibetan independence, and activities did not have to be violent to be illegal or to draw a heavy sentence.
An unknown number of Tibetans were serving sentences in “reeducation-through-labor” camps and other forms of administrative detention not subject to judicial review. Conditions in administrative detention facilities, such as reeducation-through-labor camps, were similar to those in prisons. In July, state media reported that authorities had established a new reeducation-through-labor camp in the TAR’s western Ngari Prefecture. The 40,000 square-foot camp reportedly could accommodate 200 inmates.
Prisoners in Tibetan areas were generally subject to the same conditions regarding forced labor as those in other areas of China. Forced labor was used in some prisons, detention centers, reeducation-through-labor facilities, and at work sites where prisoners were used as workers. The law states that prisoners may be required to work up to 12 hours per day, with 1 rest day every 2 weeks, but these regulations often were not enforced.
Family planning policies permitted Tibetans and members of other minority groups to have more children than Han Chinese. Urban Tibetans, including Communist Party members, were generally permitted to have two children. Rural Tibetans were encouraged, but not required, to limit births to three children. These regulations were not strictly enforced.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that 2,427 Tibetan new arrivals approached UNHCR in Nepal during the year, of whom 2,338 were found to be “of concern” and of whom 2,318 were provided with basic assistance; the remaining 89 Tibetan new arrivals departed for India without being registered or processed by UNHCR. In August, a TAR tourism official stated that approximately 400 TAR residents had traveled abroad in the first 8 months of the year, an increase over a total of 300 in 2003. Many Tibetans, particularly those from rural areas, continued to report difficulties obtaining passports. The application process was not transparent, and residents of different Tiebtan areas reported obstacles ranging from bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption to denials based on the applicant’s political activities or beliefs. Police in China have stated that passport regulations permit them to deny passports to those whose travel will “harm the national security and national interests.
Due in part to such difficulties and in part to the difficulty many Chinese citizens of Tibetan ethnicity encountered in obtaining entry visas for India, it was difficult for Tibetans to travel to India for religious and other purposes. The Government placed restrictions on the movement of Tibetans during sensitive anniversaries and events and increased controls over border areas at these times. Nevertheless, thousands of Tibetans from China, including monks and nuns, visited India via third countries and returned to China after temporary stays. In February, RFA reported that the majority of Tibetans who transited Nepal to India were young Tibetans, whose ages ranged from 6 to 30, and that the main reason they migrated was the lack of Tibetan-language educational facilities and opportunities for religious education.
There were reports of arbitrary detention of persons, particularly monks, returning to China from Nepal. Detentions generally lasted for several months, although in most cases no formal charges were brought. In January, and again in September, there were reports that the Nepali government cooperated with Chinese authorities to repatriate Tibetans who crossed the border. NGOs reported that some individuals were detained and mistreated upon their return to China. For example, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy stated that when monks Gedun Tsundue and Jamphel Gyatso crossed back into China in February after studying in India, they were detained for 4 months and fined $545 (RMB 4,500) each. In July, RFA reported that Tibetan Buddhist monks Tenzen Samten and Thubten Samdup remained in detention at Shigatse’s Nyari Prison 5 months after being arrested while attempting to cross the border from Nepal into China. According to RFA, the two monks were arrested with two other individuals, Sherab and Nawang Namgyal, in February.
The Government also regulated foreign travel to the TAR. In accordance with a 1989 regulation, foreign visitors (excluding individuals from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan) were required to obtain an official confirmation letter issued by the Chinese Government before entering the TAR. Most tourists obtained such letters by booking tours through officially registered travel agencies. In July, state media announced that foreign tourists would enjoy “unrestricted access to all 70 counties of the TAR.” However, TAR authorities were unable to confirm the change, and travelers reported that many restrictions remained in place. Official visits to the TAR were supervised closely and afforded delegation members very few opportunities to meet local persons not previously approved by the authorities. Foreigners could travel freely in most Tibetan areas outside the TAR. In March, authorities lifted restrictions on foreign travel to the last four closed counties in Sichuan’s Ngaba Prefecture.
Freedom of Religion
Overall, the level of repression in Tibetan areas remained high and the Government’s record of respect for religious freedom remained poor during the year. The Constitution of the People’s Republic of China provides for freedom of religious belief, and the Government’s May White Paper on “Regional Ethnic Autonomy in Tibet” stated, “Tibetans fully enjoy the freedom of religious belief.” However, the Government maintained tight controls on religious practices and places of worship in Tibetan areas. Although the authorities permitted many traditional practices and public manifestations of belief, they promptly and forcibly suppressed activities they viewed as vehicles for political dissent or advocacy of Tibetan independence, such as religious activities venerating the Dalai Lama (which the Chinese government described as “splittist”).
The atmosphere for religious freedom varied from region to region. Conditions were generally more relaxed in Tibetan autonomous areas outside the TAR, with the exception of parts of Sichuan’s Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. Most abbots and monks in Tibetan areas outside the TAR reported that they had greater freedom to worship, to conduct religious training, and to manage the affairs of their monasteries than their coreligionists in the TAR; however, restrictions remained. The Associated Press reported that, in November, Communist officials met with Buddhist leaders in Qinghai Province and warned that the Buddhist leaders would be punished if they failed to win greater support for Beijing’s policies toward the exiled Dalai Lama and greater acceptance among their followers for Gyaltsen Norbu, the boy picked by the PRC as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the second most prominent figure in Tibetan Buddhism.
Most Tibetans practiced Tibetan Buddhism and, to a lesser extent, the traditional Tibetan Bon religion. This held true for many Tibetan government officials and Communist Party members. Bon includes beliefs and ceremonies that practitioners believe predate the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet in the 7th century. Approximately 615 Tibetan Buddhist religious figures held positions in local people’s congresses and committees of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in the TAR. However, the Government continued to insist that Communist Party members and senior employees adhere to the Party’s code of atheism, and routine political training for cadres continued to promote atheism. Government officials confirmed that some Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) officers were members of the Communist Party and that religious belief is incompatible with Party membership. However, some lower level RAB officials practiced Buddhism.
Security was intensified during the Dalai Lama’s birthday, sensitive anniversaries, and festival days in the TAR and in some other Tibetan areas as well. In June, observers reported that students and faculty at Tibet University were restrained from participating in religious devotions connected to the Sagadawa festival. The prohibition on celebrating the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6 continued. In August, some Lhasa residents privately expressed unhappiness with city authorities’ plans to fix the date of the Drepung Shodon festival, which traditionally varied according to the Tibetan lunar calendar, on August 18th in order to promote tourism. However, residents were reportedly permitted to carry out observances on the traditional date a week later.
On May 23, the Government issued a White Paper on “Regional Ethnic Autonomy in Tibet,” in which it urged the Dalai Lama to drop his “bid for Tibetan independence” and stated “the possibility of instituting another social system does not exist.” In September, the Government extended invitations to emissaries of the Dalai Lama to visit Tibetan and other areas of China. The delegation visited Guangdong, Beijing, and Tibetan areas of western Sichuan Province. This marked the third visit of emissaries of the Dalai Lama to China in as many years. In September 2002, Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy, and Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Dalai Lama’s Envoy, traveled to Beijing, Lhasa, and other cities and met with a number of government officials. These were the first formal contacts between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Government since 1993. They made a second trip to China in June 2003 to meet with Chinese officials and visited Shanghai, Beijing, and Tibetan areas in Yunnan Province. Additionally, Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, visited in July 2002, making his first trip to the TAR since leaving in 1959 and subsequently has made additional private visits to China. The Government asserted that the door to dialogue and negotiation were open, provided that the Dalai Lama public affirmed that Tibet and Taiwan were inseparable parts of China.
Government officials maintained that possessing or displaying pictures of the Dalai Lama was not illegal. Authorities, however, appeared to view possession of such photos as evidence of separatist sentiment when detaining individuals on political charges. Pictures of the Dalai Lama were not openly displayed in major monasteries and could not be purchased openly in the TAR. In August, TAR Deputy Chairman Wu Jilie told visiting western journalists that not displaying the Dalai Lama’s photo was the voluntary choice of most TAR residents. During the year, diplomatic and other observers saw pictures of a number of religious figures, including the Dalai Lama, displayed more widely in Tibetan areas outside the TAR. The Government also continued to ban pictures of Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama. Photos of the “official” Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, were not publicly displayed in most places, most likely because most Tibetans refuse to recognize him as the Panchen Lama. In February, RFA reported that authorities had warned Tibetans in two counties of Sichuan’s Kardze Prefecture that they would lose their land if they did not surrender pictures of the Dalai Lama. There were no reports that this warning was enforced. However, in Sichuan’s Karzde Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture and Litang, authorities reportedly conducted house to house searches in 2003 and confiscated private displays of the Dalai Lama’s photo.
The Government’s May White Paper stated that the TAR had over 46,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns and more than 1,700 venues for Tibetan Buddhist activities. Officials have cited almost identical figures since 1996, although the numbers of monks and nuns dropped at many sites as a result of the “patriotic education” campaign and the expulsion from monasteries and nunneries of many monks and nuns who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama or who were found to be “politically unqualified.” These numbers represented only the TAR, where the number of monks and nuns was very strictly controlled; approximately 60,000 Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns lived in Tibetan areas outside the TAR, according to informed estimates.
Government officials closely associated Buddhist monasteries with pro-independence activism in Tibetan areas of China. Spiritual leaders encountered difficulty re-establishing historical monasteries due to lack of funds, general limitations on monastic education, and denials of government permission to build and operate religious institutions, which officials in some areas contended were a drain on local resources and a conduit for political infiltration by the Tibetan exile community. The Government stated that there were no limits on the number of monks in major monasteries, and that each monastery’s Democratic Management Committee (DMC) decided independently how many monks the monastery could support. Many of these committees, however, were government-controlled, and, in practice, the Government imposed strict limits on the number of monks in major monasteries, particularly in the TAR. The Government had the right to disapprove any individual’s application to take up religious orders; however, the Government did not necessarily exercise this right in practice during the year. Authorities curtailed the traditional practice of sending young boys to monasteries for religious training by means of regulations that forbade monasteries from accepting individuals under the age of 18. Nevertheless, some monasteries continued to admit younger boys, often delaying their formal registration until the age of 18.
The Government continued to oversee the daily operations of major monasteries. The Government, which did not contribute to the monasteries’ operating funds, retained management control of monasteries through the DMCs and local religious affairs bureaus. Regulations restricted leadership of many DMCs to “patriotic and devoted” monks and nuns and specified that the Government must approve all members of the committees. At some monasteries, government officials also sat on the committees.
The quality and availability of high-level religious teachers in the TAR and other Tibetan areas remained inadequate; many teachers were in exile, older teachers were not being replaced, and those remaining in Tibetan areas outside the TAR had difficulty securing permission to teach in the TAR. In recent years, DMCs at several large monasteries began to use funds generated by the sales of entrance tickets or donated by pilgrims for purposes other than the support of monks engaged in full-time religious study. As a result, some “scholar monks” who had formerly been fully supported had to engage in income-generating activities. Some experts were concerned that, as a result, fewer monks will be qualified to serve as teachers in the future. While local government officials’ attempts to attract tourists to religious sites provided some monasteries with extra income, they also deflected time and energy from religious instruction. There were reports of disagreements between monastic leaders and government officials over visitors, vehicle traffic, and culturally inappropriate construction near monastic sites. However, in July, authorities permitted resumption of the Geshe Lharampa examinations, the highest religious examination in the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism, at Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple for the first time in 16 years.
Government officials have stated that the “patriotic education” campaign, which began in 1996 and often consisted of intensive, weeks-long sessions conducted by outside work teams, ended in 2000. However, officials stated openly that monks and nuns continued to undergo political education, likewise known as “patriotic education,” on a regular basis, generally less than four times a year, but occasionally more frequently, at their religious sites. Some religious leaders also held local political positions. Since primary responsibility for conducting political education shifted from government officials to monastery leaders, the form, content, and frequency of training at each monastery appeared to vary widely. However, conducting such training remained a requirement and had become a routine part of monastic management.
In January, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog, the charismatic founder of the Serthar Tibetan Buddhist Institute (also known as Larung Gar) in Sichuan Province’s Kardze Prefecture, died while receiving medical treatment in the provincial capital Chengdu. Founded in 1980, the Institute grew to house 10,000 monks and nuns before authorities moved to destroy structures and expel students from the site in 2001, ultimately reducing the population to approximately 4,000. After a year’s absence officially attributed to medical treatment, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsog returned to the Institute in 2002. As recently as May 2003, conflicts over attempts to rebuild some structures resulted in arrests and the enforced closure of the Institute to outsiders. After the abbot’s death, Sichuan authorities forbade the province’s Buddhist monks from attending his funeral; nonetheless, eyewitnesses reported that tens of thousands of Tibetan and Han monks defied the order to pay their respects.
The Karmapa Lama, leader of Tibetan Buddhism’s Karma Kagyu sect and one of the most influential religious figures in Tibetan Buddhism, remained in exile following his 1999 flight to India. The Karmapa Lama stated that he fled because of the Government’s controls on his movements and its refusal either to allow him to go to India to be trained by his spiritual mentors or to allow his teachers to come to him. Visitors to Tsurphu Monastery, the seat of the Karmapa Lama, noted that the population of monks remained small and the atmosphere remained subdued.
The Government routinely asserted control over the process of finding and educating reincarnate lamas. The Panchen Lama is Tibetan Buddhism’s second most prominent figure, after the Dalai Lama. The Government continued to insist that Gyaltsen Norbu, the boy it selected in 1995, is the Panchen Lama’s 11th reincarnation. The Government continued to refuse to allow access to Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the boy recognized by the Dalai Lama in 1995 as the 11th Panchen Lama (when he was 6 years old), and his whereabouts were unknown. Government officials have claimed that the boy is under government supervision, at an undisclosed location, for his own protection and attends classes as a “normal schoolboy.” All requests from the international community for access to the boy to confirm his well-being have been refused. While the overwhelming majority of Tibetan Buddhists recognized the boy identified by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama, Tibetan monks claimed that they were forced to sign statements pledging allegiance to the boy the Government selected. The Communist Party also urged its members to support the “official” Panchen Lama. Gyaltsen Norbu made his third highly orchestrated visit to Tibetan areas in summer 2004, and his public appearances were marked by a heavy security presence.
Similarly, the child the Government approved as the seventh reincarnation of Reting Rinpoche was not accepted by many of the monks at Reting Monastery in 2000 because the Dalai Lama did not recognize his selection. The Pawo Rinpoche, who was recognized by the Karmapa Lama in 1994, lived under strict government supervision at Nenang Monastery. In 2001, NGOs reported that he was denied access to his religious tutors and required to attend a regular Chinese school.
In July, Tibetan and Chinese intellectuals succeeded in their petition drive to prevent Han Chinese sportsman Zhang Jian from swimming across Lake Namtso in the TAR, which many Tibetan Buddhists hold sacred.
In its May White Paper, the Government claimed that since 1949 it had contributed approximately $36 million (RMB 300 million) to renovate and open over 1,400 monasteries and to repair cultural relics, many of which were destroyed before and during the Cultural Revolution. In the same document, the Government claimed to have allocated an additional $40 million (RMB 330 million) since 2001 for the second phase of the renovation of the Potala Palace, as well as the renovation of the Norbulingka Palace (another former residence of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa) and Sakya Monastery, the seat of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism in rural southern TAR. Despite these and other efforts, many monasteries destroyed during the Cultural Revolution were never rebuilt or repaired, and others remained only partially repaired. Government funding of restoration efforts ostensibly supported the practice of religion, but also promoted the development of tourism in Tibetan areas. Most recent restoration efforts were funded privately, although a few religious sites also received government support for reconstruction projects during the year.
Economic Development and Protection of Cultural Heritage
The TAR is one of China’s poorest regions, and Tibetans are one of the poorest groups; malnutrition among Tibetan children continued to be widespread in many areas of the TAR. The Central Government and other provinces of China heavily subsidized the TAR economy, which, according to official government statistics, grew by an average annual rate of more than 10 percent for the last decade. Over 90 percent of the TAR’s budget came from outside sources, and residents of the TAR benefited from a wide variety of favorable economic and tax policies. Tibetan autonomous areas outside the TAR benefited to varying degrees from similar favorable policies. Government development policies helped raise the living standards of most Tibetans, particularly by providing better transportation and communications facilities. However, Han Chinese benefited disproportionately from the Government’s development policies in Tibetan areas.
In June, state media reported that Tibetans and other minority ethnic groups made up 78 percent of all government employees in the TAR. However, Han Chinese continued to hold key positions, including Party Secretary of the TAR. A similar situation continued to pertain to areas outside the TAR.
Some Tibetans reported that they experienced discrimination in employment for some urban occupations and claimed Han were hired preferentially for many jobs and received greater pay for the same work. This situation was partially attributed to Han contractors’ practice of hiring through connections in their home cities. In recent years, some Tibetans reported that it was more difficult for Tibetans than Han to get permits and loans to open businesses. The widespread use of the Chinese language in urban areas and many businesses limited employment opportunities for Tibetans who did not speak Chinese.
Fundamental worker rights recognized by the International Labor Organization, including the right to organize and the right to bargain collectively, which were broadly denied in the rest of China, were also denied in Tibetan areas.
According to China’s 2000 census, the population of Tibetans in the TAR was 2,427,168. The population of Tibetans in autonomous prefectures and counties outside the TAR was 2,927,372. Tibetans made up 94 percent of the population of the TAR. Government-sponsored development and the prospect of new economic opportunities attracted migrant workers from China’s large transient population to the region, resulting in a net increase in the non-Tibetan share of the population (chiefly China’s Muslim Hui minority and Han Chinese) from approximately 4 percent in 1990 to 6 percent in 2000. However, census figures did not include a large number of long-term Han Chinese residents, such as cadres, skilled workers, unskilled laborers, military and paramilitary troops, and their dependents. In Tibetan areas outside the TAR, Tibetans increased their majority share as natural population growth outpaced net migration by non-Tibetans. Migrants to the TAR were overwhelmingly concentrated in cities and towns, while Tibetans continued to make up nearly 98 percent of the population in rural areas. One official estimate put the number of Han Chinese residents in Lhasa at 100,000 out of a total population of 409,500, while many observers estimated that more than half of Lhasa’s population was Han Chinese. Small businesses run by Han Chinese and Hui migrants–mostly restaurants and retail shops–predominated in cities throughout the Tibetan areas.
The Dalai Lama, Tibetan experts, and other observers expressed concern that development projects and other Central Government policies initiated in 1994 and reemphasized and expanded at the “Fourth Tibet Work Conference” in 2001, including the Qinghai-Tibet railroad, would continue to promote a considerable influx of Han Chinese, Hui, and other ethnic groups into the TAR. They feared that the TAR’s traditional culture and Tibetan demographic dominance would be overwhelmed by such migration.
Rapid economic growth, the expanding tourism industry and the introduction of more modern cultural influences also have disrupted traditional living patterns and customs and threatened traditional Tibetan culture. In Lhasa, the Chinese cultural presence was obvious and widespread. Residents lacked the right to play a role in protecting their cultural heritage.
In February, an audiotape smuggled out of China, purportedly made by Tibetan workers, alleged that Chinese authorities were mishandling the renovation of the Potala Palace in Lhasa by making culturally inappropriate architectural decisions. In September, Lhasa Deputy Mayor Ou Guoxiang announced a project to give Lhasa a more traditional “Tibetan look” by renovating buildings along the main streets of the building. Ou stated that the project had been conceived in response to concerns about Lhasa’s urban development plans raised during the June-July 2003 UNESCO World Heritage Committee meeting.
Both Tibetan and Chinese are official languages in the TAR, and both languages were used on public and commercial signs. However, the Chinese language was spoken widely, and Chinese was used for most commercial and official communications. The dominant position of the Chinese language in government, commerce, and academia left many young Tibetans seeking to get ahead with little choice but to use Chinese rather than Tibetan.
Official government media reports in 2003 stated that 92 percent of eligible students in the TAR attended primary school and 61 percent attended middle school and that 80 percent of the counties in the TAR had instituted 6-year compulsory education and 17 percent had 9-year compulsory education. However, in practice, many pupils in rural and nomadic areas received only 1 to 3 years of schooling. Official statistics put the illiteracy rate for young and middle-aged TAR residents at 37 percent, but some observers believed it to be much higher in some areas.
The Government has established a comprehensive national Tibetan-language curriculum, and many elementary schools in Tibetan areas used Tibetan as the primary language of instruction. However, Tibetan students were also required to study Chinese language, Chinese was generally used to teach certain subjects, such as arithmetic, and Han Chinese students in Tibetan areas generally had the option to attend exclusively Chinese-medium schools. In middle and high schools–even some officially designated as “Tibetan” schools–teachers often used Tibetan only to teach classes in Tibetan language, literature, and culture and taught many classes in Chinese. As a practical matter, proficiency in Chinese was essential to receive a higher education. China’s most prestigious universities provided instruction only in Chinese, while the lower-ranked universities established to serve ethnic minorities allowed study of only some subjects in Tibetan. In general, opportunities to study at Tibetan-medium schools were greater in the TAR, while opportunities to study at privately funded Tibetan-language schools and to receive a traditional Tibetan-language religious education were greater in Tibetan areas outside the TAR.
Authorities in Tibetan areas required professors and students at institutions of higher education to attend political education sessions and limited course studies and materials in an effort to prevent separatist political and religious activities on campus. The Government controlled curricula, texts, and other course materials.
There were no formal restrictions on women’s participation in the political system, and women held many lower-level government positions. However, as in the rest of China, women were underrepresented at the provincial and prefectural levels of government.
Prostitution was a growing problem in Tibetan areas, as it was elsewhere in the country. Hundreds of brothels operated semi-openly in Lhasa. Up to 10,000 commercial sex workers may have been employed in Lhasa alone. Some of the prostitution occurred at sites owned by the Party, the Government, and the military. Most prostitutes in the TAR were Han Chinese women, mainly from Sichuan. However, some Tibetans, mainly young girls from rural or nomadic areas, also worked as prostitutes. The incidence of HIV/AIDS among prostitutes in Tibetan areas was unknown, but lack of knowledge about HIV transmission and economic pressures on prostitutes to engage in unprotected sex made an increase in the rate of HIV infection likely.
The TAR Tourism Bureau continued its policy of refusing to hire Tibetan tour guides educated in India or Nepal. Government officials have stated that all tour guides working in the TAR were required to seek employment with the Tourism Bureau and to pass a licensing exam on tourism and political ideology. The Government’s stated intent was to ensure that all tour guides provide visitors with the Government’s position opposing Tibetan independence and the activities of the Dalai Lama. The Tourist Bureau’s monopoly did not extend to Tibetan areas outside the TAR, and some tour guides educated abroad reportedly moved to those areas to seek employment.
The Tibetan-language services of Voice of America and RFA, as well as of the Oslo-based Voice of Tibet, suffered from the same jamming of their frequencies by Chinese authorities as their Chinese-language services. However, Tibetans were able to listen to the broadcasts at least some of the time. Unlike in 2003, there were no reports during the year that Tibetans were subject to intimidation and fines for listening to foreign-language broadcasts.
In February, the Tibet Information Network reported that TAR authorities had banned Tibetan author Oser’s book, “Notes on Tibet,” for its politically “sensitive” content.
In March, RFA reported that authorities had instituted political education activities at Lhasa-based TV-3 for airing a program that showed the Tibetan national flag. The station director reportedly was demoted.
Although the Government made efforts in recent years to restore some of the physical structures and other aspects of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan culture damaged or destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, repressive social and political controls continued to limit the fundamental freedoms of Tibetans and risked undermining Tibet’s unique cultural, religious, and linguistic heritage.