Bitter Winter – by He Yuyan (3 August 2022)
Because of quotas limiting the number of nuns in Tibet, they went to the large monastery in Sichuan. The long arm of the CCP found them there.
Yarchen Gar used to be the largest monastery in the world. It is located in the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, part of historical Tibet now incorporated into the Chinese province of Sichuan. Most of the Yarchen Gar residents are Tibetan Buddhist nuns, and the huge monastery was nicknamed the “City of Nuns.” At one stage, some 10,000 nuns lived there.
Until a few years ago, the CCP kept the nuns under surveillance but also welcomed tourists to the Yarchen Gar, using it to argue that Tibetan Buddhists enjoyed religious freedom. In fact, when the authorities felt the monastery was growing too much, parts of it were demolished, since the beginning of the 21st century.
It was however under Xi Jinping that the feeling that the Yarchen Gar was a threat to the CCP prevailed, and massive demolitions were carried out in 2017 and 2019, which generated widespread international protests. Thousands of nuns were sent to camps for “reeducation.”
At the same time, the CCP played a complicated game around Yarchen Gar tourism. Periodically, access of tourists was closed to allow for demolition and deportation of the nuns. At the same time, areas of the monastic complex have been subject to a process of touristification. There are those in the CCP that would like to see the Yarchen Gar go the way of countless other religious monuments that have been converted into tourist attraction and “Disneyfied,” perhaps leaving there a few pro-CCP nuns whom tourists can photograph.
Recently, however, the CCP has been confronted with a new problem at Yarchen Gar. CCP-imposed quotas in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) limit the number of novices who can be admitted into Buddhist monasteries. There are more girls who want to become nuns than places available. COVID and intensified border surveillance now limit the possibility for these girls to go to India or Nepal and become novices in monasteries there.
The only alternative for them is to seek a monastery in China but outside the TAR. Notwithstanding the demolitions, the Yarchen Gar is still a large monastery and a prestigious possibility. This explains why hundreds of TAR Buddhist girls went to the Yarchen Gar in Sichuan, hoping to become nuns there.
The CCP, however, sees this as an escamotage to evade the consequences of the regulations limiting the number of Buddhist nuns in Tibet. In the last few weeks, the Yarchen Gar has been strictly closed to tourists again, and the novices from the TAR have been put on buses and deported back to the TAR. Not to home, though. They are in “transformation through education camps,” to be reeducated and learn that you cannot escape the long arm of the CCP.
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