China to Rebuild Quake-Damaged Monasteries In Tibet
Added over 6 years ago
By Phoenix Caniche
The Chinese government has started a multi-million-dollar project to restore 87 monasteries damaged in a 7.1-magnitude earthquake that shook Yushu, Qinghai, in Tibet, now part of the Haixi Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture on April 14.
The earthquake killed more than 2,200 people, including 84 monks, and left over 12,000 people injured. The entire town of Gyêgu, the capital of the Yushu region, was flattened, leaving 100,000 residents homeless, while some of Tibet’s most important monasteries, including those of Trangu, Gyêgu and Renyak, were destroyed.
Dondrub Ling monastery in Yushu county's Gyêgu township. Photo courtesy of Andreas Gruschke
According to official Chinese reports, within two to three years the monasteries will be totally repaired as well as upgraded to include running water, electricity and the Internet. It is planned that by the end of 2010, the living quarters of the monasteries will be restored for more than 8,000 monks now living in makeshift tents on the grounds of their former homes.
Monks, locals and officials gathered last Saturday at the new site of the 700-year-old Trangu Monastery for a ground-breaking ceremony. Monks held a prayer service, chanting sutras and turning prayer wheels to mark the start of the rebuilding. The repair of Gyêgu Monastery (Dondrub Ling) has also begun.
The central Chinese government has earmarked a total of 1 billion Yuan (approximately US$15,000,000) for the monastery restorations.
According to official government data, there were hundreds of monasteries, including 194 large or medium ones, in the region before the quake. The number of monks, nuns and other religious personnel was estimated at 23,000. The economic losses of the monasteries and in-house religious relics is estimated at 756 million Yuan (US$108,000,000).
Panorama of Gyêgu town and monastery (2005) – Photo courtesy of Andreas Gruschke
In committing to the rapid rebuilding of the monasteries, the central Chinese government is acknowledging the importance of Buddhism and the vital role played by the monasteries in the lives of the region’s ethnic Tibetan population.
The mainstream international press has largely ignored the aftermath of the earthquake and the implications it has for ethnic Tibetans and their culture.
While Lodroe Nyima Rinpoche, a living Buddha of Trangu Monastery, was quoted in Chinese press releases as saying that monks felt "grateful" for the government efforts to rebuild damaged monasteries, it is impossible to know how Tibetans, who make up 97% of the region's population, really feel about the rebuilding project and the opportunity it provides the Chinese to further consolidate their control over the country formerly known as Tibet.
Tibetan and Nepalese Buddhist devotees consider it disrespectful to use old or worn relics in their devotions, and commonly sell off old and antique objects to Western buyers via connections in Nepal. In doing so, they receive equitable sums of money which is used not only to replace original religious trappings but also to provide the monasteries with a vital independent source of income. However, in recent years this avenue of trade has been blocked and many Tibetan relics are now being officially redirected to antique markets in Shanghai and Beijing. The Chinese government’s restoration of the monasteries is likely to strengthen this state-sanctioned theft of Tibetan culture, to the detriment of the Tibetan people and the further loss of their independence.
Photograph: China Daily/REUTERS
References and Further Reading
Autonomous areas of China http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_areas_of_China
The People’s Daily Online http://english.people.com.cn/90001/90776/90882/7060609.html
Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yushu_Tibetan_Autonomous_Prefecture
Location of Yushu County (pink) and Yushu Prefecture (yellow) within Qinghai province of China. Photo courtesy of Croquant
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