China is a united country of many ethnic groups. The Chinese government pursues a policy of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all the ethnic groups, respects and protects the right to freedom of religious belief and the folk customs of the ethnic minorities. The Law of the People's Republic of China on National Regional Autonomy stipulates: "Organs of self-government in ethnic regional autonomous areas protect the right to freedom of religious belief of the citizens of all ethnic groups."
While making great efforts to promote progress in economy, culture, education and other undertakings in the areas where ethnic minorities live in compact communities, so as to improve the material and cultural well-being of the broad masses of the ethnic minorities (including believers in various religions), the Chinese government pays special attention to their religious beliefs and the protection of their cultural heritages. Special programs have been carried out to survey, collect, classify, study and publish the cultural heritages-including religious cultures-and folk arts of all the ethnic groups. In addition, the State has made huge investments in the maintenance and reconstruction of temples, mosques and other religious facilities of important historical and cultural value in ethnic-minority areas.
Tibet is one of China's ethnic autonomous regions, and the Tibetans mostly believe in Tibetan Buddhism. Since the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, and particularly since the introduction of the reform and opening policies in 1979, citizens' right to freedom of religious belief has been thoroughly carried out in Tibet. Since the 1980s the central government has allocated more than 200 million yuan in special funds for the maintenance and reconstruction of the famous Potala Palace and the Jokhang, Tashilhunpo and Samye monasteries. The State has also established special funds to support the work of compiling and publishing the Tripitaka in the Tibetan language and other major Tibetan Buddhist classics as well as the work of establishing the Advanced Buddhism College of Tibetan Language Family of China in Beijing and the Tibet College of Buddhism in Lhasa.
At present, there are in Tibet over 1,700 places for Buddhist activities and a total of 46,000 resident monks and nuns. Small prayer halls or shrines are virtually universal in the homes of believers, and pilgrims coming to Lhasa number well over one million each year. Believers performing Buddhist rituals, and prayer umbrellas and Mani rocks carved with Buddhist sutras can be found all over the Tibet Autonomous Region. In addition, religious activities during the annual Sholton Festival and the traditional practice of circling Mount Kangrinboqe in the Year of the Horse and circling Lake Namco in the Year of the Sheep along pilgrim paths have been carried on and respected by society at large.
The reincarnation of holy men, or "Living Buddhas," is a unique form of succession in Tibetan Buddhism which has long been recognized and respected by the State. In 1992 the Religious Affairs Bureau of the State Council approved the succession of the 17th Karmapa Living Buddha. In 1995 China successfully concluded the search for and identification of the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama and the title-conferring and enthronement of the 11th Panchen Lama after lot-drawing from a golden urn according to the established religious rituals and historical conventions of Tibetan Buddhism, and with the approval of the State Council. These actions highlight the fact that the Tibetan people's right to religious freedom is respected and protected, thus winning endorsement and support from the converts of Tibet.
Considering the special place of the Grand Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism of past generations in Tibetan social life, the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties gradually put the identifying of the reincarnation of the Living Buddhas within the jurisdiction of the central government and into the framework of the State's laws and statutes. In 1792 the Qing government issued an order that the reincarnation of the Grand Living Buddhas above the Hutuktu rank be determined through drawing lots from the golden urn, which later developed into a historical institution and was accepted as a permanent religious ritual in Tibetan Buddhism. The "soul boy" confirmed through lot-drawing from the golden urn as the reincarnation of a Grand Living Buddha must be reported to the central government for approval prior to his official enthronement. The lot-drawing may be dispensed with under special circumstances, but this must also be reported to the central government in advance for approval. The practice of lot-drawing from the golden urn not only upholds the central government's supreme authority and the sovereignty of the State, but religiously displays the "decision by Sakyamuni's Dharma" as well. Since 1792, in the reincarnation system of the Grand Living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism over 70 "soul boys" have been identified by confirmation through lot-drawing from the golden urn and with the approval of the central government. Therefore, the approval of the reincarnation of the Grand Living Buddhas by the central government is a religious ritual and historical convention of Tibetan Buddhism, and is the key to safeguarding the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism.
The Chinese government also respects and protects the Moslems' freedom of religious belief as well as their folk customs. The departments concerned in the government have provided special pilgrimage-related services for Moslem pilgrims, to the acclaim of the latter. Since the 1980s the number of Chinese Moslems going to Mecca on pilgrimages has exceeded 40,000. In the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region alone, there are now more than 23,000 mosques, with 29,000 clergymen, having thus met the needs of believers' religious life. Out of full consideration for the dietary habits and funeral rites of those ethnic-minority people who believe in Islam, the Chinese government has enacted regulations on the production of halal food and opened Moslems-only cemeteries. In recent years Chinese judicial organs have provided legal protection for the lawful rights of the Moslems. Some cases concerning publications badly hurting the religious feelings of the Moslems have been handled according to law.
The Chinese government resolutely opposes attempts to split the country along ethnic lines, and any use of religious fanaticism to divide the people, split the country or harm the unity among all ethnic groups or engage in illegal activities and terrorist actions under the signboard of religion. Meanwhile, the Chinese government firmly upholds national unity and social stability in areas where ethnic minorities live in compact communities, and safeguards the normal religious activities of the ethnic-minority believers.
The Chinese government respects the generally accepted principles regarding religious faiths in the international community, and holds that these principles must be applied in accordance with the concrete conditions and be carried out according to the domestic law of each country. The Chinese government opposes creating confrontations in religion or interfering in the internal affairs of another country under the pretext of religion.
The facts make it fully clear that remarkable improvements have been achieved in the situation of human rights of the Chinese people, and the freedom of religious belief has enjoyed full respect and legal protection since the founding of New China, particularly in the recent two decades following the implementation of reform and opening policies. The Chinese government will, as always, make ever-greater efforts to safeguard human rights and specifically to protect the freedom of religious belief.
(China.org.cn June 29, 2009)