The “Patriotic Education” of Tibet
Image Credit: REUTERS/Stringer

The “Patriotic Education” of Tibet


In Tibet, the greatest casualties of Chinese governance have been religion and culture. From its invasion, or “liberation” in Beijing’s eyes, of Tibet in 1949, through the years of “Democratic Reforms” and “Cultural Revolution,” to today, China has converted a land of Buddhism and open-minded philosophy into a territory where a government and its laws control faith and dictate belief.

Buddhist monks and nuns have protested numerous times against the denial of religious expression. For instance, the 1987-89 unrest in Tibet was led largely by the monks of Drepung, Sera and Ganden, Lhasa’s three largest monasteries. In turn, the Chinese authorities have looked upon Tibetan religious institutions as breeding grounds for dissent, and have retaliated through greater restrictions and control. One such policy is “patriotic re-education” or simply “patriotic education,” under which “work-teams” (known in Chinese as gongzou dui and in Tibetan as ledonrukhag) consisting of both Chinese and trusted Tibetan officials visit monasteries and nunneries to force on monks and nuns the concept of unity of Tibet and China and to identify dissidents.

Patriotic education was launched in Tibet in 1996 as part of the national “Strike Hard” campaign against crime and corruption. However, the testimonies of Tibetan refugees, documented at the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), suggest that the concept and practice of “patriotic education” flourished well before its official implementation.

Bhagdro was a monk at Ganden Monastery when a work team fifty or sixty strong arrived at the monastery in October 1987, soon after the unrest began. Interviewed by the Tibet Information Network in May 1998 after he escaped to India, Bhagdro recalled:

“The meeting began by condemning the monks of Drepung and Sera for indulging in ‘reactionary activities’ designed to harm the interests of the ‘motherland.’ It was advised that the Ganden monks should not follow the bad example set by the monks of these two Lhasa monasteries. The first meeting dispersed with the distribution of newspapers to the monks who were asked to study them and to learn the ideological overtone of the contents. We were told to be prepared to answer questions along those lines after two or three days. Expectedly, they talked about wiping out ‘separatists,’ about the unity of the ‘Great Motherland’ and how Tibet and China, being like mother and son, were an inseparable entity… In order to make things more manageable to the team, the monks were divided into small groups. This made many of us very angry. For many, this was a moment of political awakening.”

On March 5, 1988, Bhagdro participated in the revolt that took place in Lhasa during the Great Prayer Festival (Monlam Chenmo) and was arrested. In prison, he would face worse: 

“On Sundays, our one day off from work, we had to study Chinese policies. We were taught about Deng Xiaoping and had to write his political statements in our books and learn about his life and that of other high officials. We were told that Tibet would never be free and that the Chinese government is good. They said that Tibetan and Chinese were members of one family and that we would never get our independence. Sometimes high Chinese officials would come and give us instructions. They would say that Tibet would never be independent as China had the political and economic power to do anything. They also said that they had powerful bombs and that the Chinese army was very strong. They said that Tibet would only be free in our daydreams…

“Practicing religion was not allowed in prison. All I could do was wait until night time and then when I was lying in bed, put a blanket over my face and recite my prayers. If anyone practiced openly, they were beaten and tortured… We were made to study the Chinese version of the history of Tibet. Those who disagreed with its contents were tied up, made to run and beaten.”

 The work teams required monks and nuns to accept a five-point statement, pledging:

1.     Opposition to separatism;

2.     Unity of Tibet and China;

3.     Recognition of the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama as the true Panchen Lama;

4.     Agreement that the Dalai Lama is destroying the unity of the Motherland;

5.     Denial that Tibet was or should be independent.

Jesus Reina
September 27, 2013 at 07:14

china should live Tibet alone, this country is a peacefull one, and the only thing that they want,is to live in peace, comunist they only are good to destroy.

Mark Eediot Zuckockberg
September 16, 2013 at 23:41

BIAS article!!!

Chris Tregenna
September 4, 2013 at 19:52

Oro Invictus:  you make a good point.  Where are the facts, to back up the – mostly – specious opinions?

Here are two facts:   

Consider two numbers:  219,000         and       4

219,000:  the total number of Chinese army, militia, police, spies, administrators, civil servants etc., currently in Tibet ensuring the obedience of the Tibetan people  –  about one Chinese for every 29 Tibetans

4:           the total number of British army, police, spies, administators, civil servants etc., in Tibet between 1904 and 1949, ensuring the obedience of the Tibetan people, viz:

1           Diplomatic Advisor to the Dalai Lama

1           Radio operator for the Diplomatic Advisor, in Lhasa

1           British Consul in Tashigong, in the far West

1           Radio operator in Chamdo, in the East

lung sha shou
August 28, 2013 at 17:10

good point

the chinese are about as morally bankrupt as the early americans and colonialists

clearly you are an enthusastic supporter of physical amd psychologcal maltreatmemt (incl genocide) of anyone who disagrees with your clique

the cccp has no real legitmacy they av created a country where average citizens leave injured children in the road to suffer – but to get rich is glorious.

do you approve of chinese being maltreated? no? but its fine to do so to others.

you are right to compare americans of old wih the chinese of today as they are at an earlier stage of mral development as a nation

August 27, 2013 at 05:36

The Tibetan had much better lifes than the Native Indian of America.  Most Native American cannot speak their own language and knows very little about their own culture.  They are not accepted into the main stream society because they were being discriminated.  The Tibetans in China have received affirmative action such as additoinal points for university entrances than Hans; one-and half child policy is in-applicable to them; they can move to any city without restrictions; and they receive special subsidies.  In comparison to Tibetans in India (South Tibet or Dharasala), Tibetans in China receive bi-langual education.  Whereas in India, they only receive Education in Hindi. 

Little Helmsman
August 26, 2013 at 04:13


You need to focus!  The article is talking Tibet in today's time, year 2013 not America in 1830s.  Okie dokie.  By comment I guess it is okay for China to behave in 2013 what white settlers did back in the 1800s?  We have come along ways since that time.  We have electricity, internet, indoor toilets, and mass communications since that time period.  Did you know that ?   How about focusing on today's problems by not repeating the mistakes of yesteryears in another continent?  

So you're pretty much admitting that China's policy of genocide today is same thing as what happened to Native Americans in the late 1800s?  You're pretty much saying that Chinese have not evolved in over 200 years so they have to behave as European ancestors did in the New World?  :)  You just discredited China.  No wonder China still has a backward dictatorship as most developed countries do not have a backward type of government to govern their people.  

August 25, 2013 at 14:09

Self immolations in Tibet are not right, but rapes in India are more detriment to the society.

August 25, 2013 at 01:38

Own Free Will Was not Given to the Native Indian In American.

It was only two or three hundred years ago that America had not given the free will to the Native Indian.  It was only less than a hundred years ago when the Native Indian were taken away forcibly to board school to learn all English class, thus destroying the Native Indian culture.  How can you forget so soon?

Kim's Uncle
August 24, 2013 at 08:55


Sorry you get a big F, as in failed!  Suicide bombers are malicious because they take out not only themselves but also whoever is near them including innocents.  Self-immolation means the person only harms himself while sparing others and no one else.  It is a protest out of desperation which he has the moral high ground as he respects his tormenter right to life as much as his own.  He spares his tormenter's life while sacrificing his own for the world to see.  It is a humane way of protest as it signifies to the world the protester sense of humanity in contrast to the tormenter (CCP) lack of humanity, compassion or common decency.  That's why so many non-Tibetans admire them while at the same time are revolted by CCP wanton cruelty.  That's why so many people were chasing the Chinese Olympics relays.  Such a black out for China!   

August 23, 2013 at 23:54

Self-immolation is a form of religious extremists' protest of not receiving what they want. Don't forget that the west face this same issue with suicide bomber with Musliam extremist. When dealing with extreme religious faith, they can get easily brainwash and influnce by a superior religious leader. So a careful evaluation is needed. I would not be surprised that these immolated monks are dictated by religious monk leaders in exiled.

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