April 25, 2018 -- Monks and nuns in present-day Tibet enjoy a freedom of religious belief that is protected by law, as well as medical insurance and social security.
The Tibet Autonomous Region, located in southwestern China, is on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, which has an average altitude of more than 4,800 meters. For all those who have visited Tibet or watched movies and TV shows about the region, the first impression they have is the strong religious atmosphere. In 1951, Tibet was liberated peacefully. In 1965, the Tibet Autonomous Region was formally established. In addition to focusing on economic development and improving the living conditions of the region, the Chinese government has always respected and protected the religious beliefs of ethnic minorities.
“Before 1959, there were many lamas in the temples, but in reality, many of them were not there willingly. They only became so to survive and avoid being taken as serfs. It was also a post that they did not even have the freedom to leave, because they had to pay a lot of money to the temple,” said Shingsa Tenzin Choedrak, vice president of the NPC Election Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region, when talking about Tibet before liberation.
“Now there is complete freedom to decide one's belief and religion. After a few years of study in the monastery, they are free to return to secular life without any corporal or financial punishment.”
There are now more than 1,700 diverse religious places in Tibet. There are 46,000 registered monks and nuns, meaning one in 70 people on average is a monk or a nun. The basic expenses of monks and nuns are subsidized by the government. All monks and nuns also benefit from the social welfare system.
“Today, there is total religious freedom among Tibetans,” said Ngawang Tsering, former director of the Tibet Research Institute and Tibetan Academy of Social Sciences.
“Before, they did not have time to go on pilgrimages, or to go to the temple. For lack of money, most of them did not have religious devices. Now you can see that many pilgrims hold prayer wheels made of silver, copper and even gold in their hands, which was hard to imagine in the past,” he added.
In March 2018, on the sidelines of the 37th meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Chinese Institute for Research on Human Rights organized a side event entitled "Protection and Development of Tibetan Culture." Government representatives from different countries, experts, journalists, as well as international and non-governmental organizations attended.
“You have to go out there and understand Tibet from the inside by listening to people, by meeting them,” Sonia Bressler, an independent French journalist told CGTN. “There, we witnessed a lot of efforts to preserve culture, to develop education and access to medical care, which is something great.”
Today, more and more foreign tourists are visiting Tibet and, through their experiences, are beginning to truly understand the region.
On April 3, 2018, China’s State Council Information Office issued a white paper titled, “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief,” outlining the country's policies regarding religion. It noted that the religious beliefs of citizens and foreigners are protected by law and both believers and non-believers “can enjoy the same political, economic, social and cultural rights, and must not be treated differently because of a difference in belief."