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Liz Carter senior contributor

Rumor Watch: Will China Allow Limited Veneration of the Dalai Lama?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama (via Bigstockphoto)
His Holiness the Dalai Lama (via Bigstockphoto)

Radio Free Asia broke a story that many found hard to believe: sources living within China reported that under a new “experimental” policy, Tibetans living in certain parts of China are now allowed to venerate the Dalai Lama, a figure held in high regard among followers of Tibetan Buddhism but long-criticized by China’s government, who have blamed him for inciting Tibetans to self-immolate and stoking the Tibetan independence movement.

Voice of Tibet reported (Chinese) on June 20 that a Tibetan based in Switzerland, has claimed the following about the Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai province:

The information is very precise, the local CCP bureaus have sent delegations of monks to each province in Amdo’s Hainan Prefecture, announcing an official document with three main parts: 1. People at all monasteries can freely venerate pictures of the Dalai Lama; 2. It is no longer permitted to slander or force others to criticize the Dalai Lama; 3. If a serious incident occurs at a monastery, monastery leaders and high-level monks will first try to solve the issue internally, and military police will not immediately enter the temple and take measures to suppress the situation.

While there have been no official announcements in mainland Chinese media outlets and both the Kardze and Hainan Prefecture government websites do not raise the matter as of the publication of this article, word has begun to spread online. “Dalai Lama” remains a blocked search term on Sina Weibo, one of China’s largest social media platforms, but one comment about the alleged policy change did manage to garner a couple hundred retweets. Wrote Zheng Wei, a journalist with Singapore’s largest Chinese-language newspaper, Lianhe Zaobao, “I’ve heard that there has been a change in Tibet policy recently…I don’t’ dare say whether it’s true or false. What’s the deal?”

One commenter attempted to corroborate the news. Wrote Weibo user @佛法常识, “At the very least, temples in Hainan and Qinghai have made these announcements. As far as the third part [regarding an end to immediately military police responses to incidents], I don’t think I’ve heard that.” Most of the other few dozen commenters however, remained skeptical, writing, “Not likely,” or “Can’t be.” On Twitter, Tibetan writer and activist Tsering Woeser denied the news: “This hasn’t happened. There hasn’t been a loosening up. Totally false!”

News from China’s majority-Tibetan areas has often come out slowly, as most journalists are barred from entering those areas and restrictions on reporting there are stricter. If the policy change is actually occurring, authorities might wish to operate below the radar until they can determine whether the experiment has succeeded. Then again, it could simply be a rumor; in an information vacuum, both truth and rumor alike can rush in.

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Liz Carter

Liz Carter is a DC-based China-watcher and the author and translator of a number of Chinese-English textbooks available on amazon.cn. She and her cat Desmond relocated to DC from Beijing, where she studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University, after learning that HBO was planning to adapt Game of Thrones for television. She writes at abigenoughforest.com and tweets from @withoutdoing.