A group of about 30 protestors marched outside the U of T-affiliated Toronto School of Theology last Thursday, seeking to draw attention to China’s religious policy.
Many protestors were members of the Tibetan Buddhist community. Others were practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that seeks to use meditation and exercise to improve one’s self.
The crowd assembled to condemn a visit by Ye Xiaowen, the director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs of the Government of China. Critics of Communist China say the religious affairs administration is responsible for repressing religious minorities such as Muslims, Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, as well as Falun Gong practitioners.
Tenzin Jamyang, a Tibetan Buddhist, said Ye’s visit was frustrating. “In 1999 the Canadian Council of Churches went there to check out the [religious] situation. This is the reciprocal visit.”
Jamyang said Ye’s visit was galling because of the treatment of the Panchen Lama, who she called “the second most important religious figure in Tibet” after the Dalai Lama.
According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, when a Lama dies, he is reborn and must be sought out and recognized in the form of a child. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was recognized as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama at the age of 7, in 1995.
Jamyang said that for political reasons, the young Lama was “kidnapped, along with his family,” by the Chinese government. “Now there’s a second boy who is called the Panchen Lama,” Jamyang said. “His parents are Communist Party members.”
Jamyang said Ye “was actually presiding over the instalment ceremony” for the false Lama. She added the real Lama’s whereabouts are a secret Ye’s administration has refused to divulge. “Being the director of the religious affairs bureau, it would be very surprising if he didn’t know where [Nyima] is.”
Joel Chipkar was also at the protest. He said he was there to show Ye that in Canada, Falun Gong is not prosecuted by the government. “There’s a persecution right now happening in China against the Falun Gong practitioners,” Chipkar said. “In Canada there are 14 family members of people being tortured in China right now,” including members of Chipkar’s wife’s family.
“The religious affairs bureau is an organization that is set up by the state of China. The religious leaders of the religious affairs bureau are appointed. What they do is carry the state line,” he said.
“He is personally responsible for the slander and defamation of Falun Gong inside and outside of China,” Chipkar added.
Chipkar said he thinks the Toronto School of Theology doesn’t know about what he called Ye’s “responsiblity for the murder of thousands of innocent people.”
Chipkar said the Falun Gong movement spread from word of mouth to encompass 100 million practitioners, but the officially atheist China views the movement as a threat. “Every government official is pressured to persecute Falun Gong. Lawyers are pressured not to take Falun Gong cases. This is ordered from the top down.” He said “the Canadian government has rescued eight people from labour camps” who were imprisoned for practising Falun Gong.
Photograph by Simon Turnbull