China’s widespread propaganda, continuous persecution of minorities and return to the cult of personality represent an echo of Mao’s rule. Technological advancements allow for mass surveillance and extreme censorship, which have resulted in a dystopian police state where blind allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and leader Xi Jinping are demanded and enforced. This is especially prevalent among ethnic and religious minorities, whose religious and cultural identities are viewed as obstacles to state loyalty.
Religious statues have been destroyed, temples are required to showcase portraits of Xi in order to avoid demolition, and Catholic priests are chosen by the state and must incorporate the ideologies of Xi — called “Xi Jinping Thought” — into their sermons. In certain provinces, the state has even gone as far as leveraging poverty-alleviation subsidies in exchange for villagers replacing depictions of Jesus, the Virgin Mary or Buddhist deities in their own homes with portraits of Xi. Of course, the extent of religious subjugation is primarily dependent on the state’s perceived threat of separatism, meaning that Tibetans and Uyghurs are regarded with even greater contempt and left to suffer through more coercive and aggressive methods.
March 10 commemorated the massacre of thousands of Tibetans, reminding us of the ongoing struggle Tibetans face. On that day in 1959, 300,000 Tibetans surrounded the Norbulingka Palace in Lhasa to protest Chinese occupation. Tensions had been simmering since the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invaded Tibet in 1950, which resulted in the Tibetan government signing, under duress, Mao’s 17-point agreement declaring Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. In exchange, the agreement was meant to safeguard Tibet’s autonomy, religious freedom and ensure the authority of the Dalai Lama; however, Mao quickly reneged on these promises.
Tibetans living outside of the designated Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) were especially persecuted, monasteries were desecrated and thousands of Tibetan monks and nuns were sent to labor camps. Finally, a rumor that the PLA was plotting to arrest and kidnap the 14th Dalai Lama sparked the revolt. What ensued was a swift and brutal repression that crushed the revolt within days and resulted in the deaths of 87,000 Tibetans. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee the region and set up a government in exile in India.
Sixty-two years later, Tibetans are still treated as second-class citizens and can be arbitrarily detained for indefinite time periods on suspicions of separatism. Many Tibetans are denied passports and required to seek official authorization to leave their villages or towns. The CCP attempts to undermine and suppress their culture and religion. They regard the Tibetan language as a vessel for separatism, have ordered the destruction of Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags, and monasteries are restricted by officials. In 1995, the Chinese government kidnapped the 11th Panchen Lama, the second most important figure after the Dalai Lama, when he was only 6 years old in order to replace him with a CCP loyalist.
Monks are required to fill out a reincarnation application that must be approved by several government agencies. The CCP is using this law to justify their meddling in choosing the reincarnation of the 15th Dalai Lama. Tibetan persecution has intensified under Xi’s rule and, in 2020, over half a million Tibetans, mainly farmers, were sent to labor camps to “reduce laziness.”
In Xinjiang, the state has adopted a similar demeaning attitude in their relentless pursuit of homogeneity. In fact, the Party Secretary of Xinjiang is Chen Quanguo, the former Party Secretary of TAR, who transferred because of his success in containing the separatist threat. Under his watchful eye, Xinjiang is undergoing a vigorous Sinicization campaign, families have been separated, and more than 1.5 million Uyghurs have been arbitrarily detained and sent to “reeducation camps.” Detainees are tortured, pressured to renounce their identity and religion, brainwashed into pledging allegiance to the state and forced to chant “Long live Xi Jinping!”
From a moral perspective, the state’s response is abhorrent and a clear violation of fundamental human rights. From a strategic perspective, China’s open disdain and demeaning methods have pushed minorities to fervently cling to their cultural identity. The CCP’s Orwellian strategy is turning harmless individuals and communities into resentful opponents.