Will Communist China Reincarnate the Next Dalai Lama? 

It sends a signal, right on cue, never mind the ‘three evil forces.’

AP/Ashwini Bhatia
The Dalai Lama, in a ceremonial yellow hat, arrives at the Tsuglakhang temple at Dharamshala, India, March 7, 2023. AP/Ashwini Bhatia

As if on cue, the Chinese Communist Party last month reasserted its intention to reincarnate the next Dalai Lama – a rather rich assertion from a group that has repeatedly called him a separatist, a terrorist, and among the “three evil forces.”

The strange battle over the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation has long been a CCP obsession. Already in 2007, the party passed measures that give it the authority to decide which Buddhist lamas are worthy of rebirth.

The current Dalai Lama – now at the seasoned age of 88 – has subsequently hinted that he might then not reincarnate. To protect Tibetan Buddhism against the CCP, he could bring the lineage to an end.

The CCP has since been incensed – and, under Xi Jinping, it has doubled down on efforts to ensure that not only will the Dalai Lama be reborn, but that he will be reborn in keeping with the CCP’s guidelines.

“The reincarnation of living Buddhas, including the Dalai Lama, must comply with Chinese laws and regulations,” says the CCP’s foreign ministry mouthpiece. This, maintain China’s communist party leaders, is how it has always been done.

Lest anyone forget this curious piece of revisionist history, the party last month aired a television series, Tashilhunpo, on China Central Television that traced the search for the reincarnations of the Dalai Lama to the Yuan Dynasty.

Already then, so the program claimed, it was China’s central government that was chief party to the hunt. “China is the birthplace of Tibetan Buddhism” concluded the program’s narrator, “and the Living Buddhas are Chinese.”

The airing of the propaganda series conveniently coincided with the Tibetan New Year, Losar, whose observance is permitted by the CCP. Not permitted, however, are Buddhist flags or any symbols of Tibetan culture or religious belief.

Those who dare display them are detained and hustled off to be politically reeducated at camps much like those found in Xinjiang. President Xi has repeatedly spoken of the need to Sinicize Tibetan Buddhism and to bring it in line with party doctrine.

In a speech Mr. Xi gave at Lhasa in July 2021, he stressed that the religion should be aligned with the CCP, with “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” and that there should be a collective sense of the Chinese nation.

In its name the CCP has waged a protracted cultural war against Tibet and its people. Cultural sites are purged, Tibetan residents are surveilled. Women are forced into abortions. As many as one million Tibetan schoolchildren are forcibly indoctrinated at CCP boarding schools.

Not wanting to be outdone by ghosts of Cultural Revolutions past, the CCP has also adopted a policy of large-scale Han in-migration as a way of diluting Tibet’s culture. What better way to dilute the culture than to hijack the Dalai Lama?

For Tibetans, no institution holds greater command of their loyalty than that of the Dalai Lamas, who ruled Tibet from 1642 until Communist China invaded in 1951. For the CCP, then, reincarnating the Dalai Lama would give it the opportunity to groom a pliable intermediary who could work to legitimize Beijing in the eyes of Tibetans.

Most Tibetans, though, regard China with contempt, and as an occupying force to be ousted. The Dalai Lama’s spiritual reach, meantime, extends also beyond Tibet – to Buddhist countries like Mongolia and Bhutan, with which the CCP has been engaged in talks over territorial demarcations.

Critically, it also extends to the Buddhist populations that reside along the 2,100-mile Sino-Indian border, where Beijing has been busy building military infrastructures and settlements. In case of a military exchange between China and India, the strategic value of a pro-CCP Dalai Lama could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

So, China’s communists persist, determined in their quest to reincarnate the man they have called the “wolf in monks robes.” Yet their eventual success remains to be seen – for the strength of a wolf, ultimately, lies with his pack. 


The New York Sun

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