The disgraced former member of the Politburo is currently serving a life sentence for corruption. Was his downfall linked to the death (or murder) of the famous monk?
by Lopsang Gurung
In January this year, Bitter Winter reported on the persecution of relatives of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, the charismatic Tibetan monk from Sichuan who was accused of “terrorism” and sentenced to death in 2002. After an international mobilization, his protest against the death was commuted to life imprisonment. He died on July 12, 2015 at Chengdu Chuandong Prison. Protests erupted among Tibetans, who did not believe the official ‘heart failure’ explanation and claimed the monk had been killed.
Netizens in China and abroad are now discussing a document posted on the Internet last week by human rights activists, which summarizes internal CCP speeches made in the year 2000 by Zhou Yongkang, then the new Party Secretary of Sichuan, illustrating a ” Ten-Year Plan of Action for Ethnic Education”. The speeches call for the “sinicization” of Tibetan Buddhists in the province and the education of their children in Chinese rather than Tibetan. Zhou called for replacing monastic education with the enrollment of Tibetan children in the official Chinese school system.
At that time, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was operating in Amdo and Kham, two regions that are part of historic Tibet but not the current Tibet Autonomous Region, a very successful network of schools. It was generally recognized that the quality of education compared favorably with public schools, and they affirmed Tibetan identity, which appealed to parents.
In 2001 and 2002, three bombs exploded in shadowy incidents in Sichuan, two in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze and one in the provincial capital Chengdu. The CCP claimed that a “terrorist Tibetan Buddhist group” was responsible for the bombings and that its leaders were Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and his assistant Lobsang Dhondup. They were both sentenced to death after a trial in Chengdu in 2002. Lobsang Dhondup was executed in 2003.
Zhou’s speeches show his implacable hostility towards those who ran private Tibetan schools and lend credence to the theory, advanced by many Tibetans in Sichuan, that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was the victim of a fake terrorist attack to get rid of of its educational institutions.
In 2002, Zhou was promoted to National Minister of Public Security, and in 2007 he became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, rising to the top rung of the CCP hierarchy. As Sichuan Tibetans can attest, he continued to rule Sichuan unofficially from Beijing through a clique of proteges.
In 2013, however, Zhou was investigated for corruption. He was arrested in 2014, expelled from the CCP, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2015. It is widely believed that Zhou was among a group of CCP leaders who tried to oppose Xi’s rise to power. Jinping. They lost, and Zhou was the first member of the Politburo to stand trial after the Gang of Four case that followed the Cultural Revolution.
Zhou was sentenced on June 11, 2015 and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in prison on July 12, 2015. Was it just a coincidence? Some netizens now believe that was not the case. Zhou was the evil genius behind the plot leading to the death sentence, later commuted, of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. Although Xi Jinping certainly supports the “sinicization” of Tibetan Buddhism and the eradication of Tibetan identity in Sichuan, in 2015 he was very concerned about possible opposition from Zhou’s powerful and vast network of followers. The mishandling of the Tenzin Delek Rinpoche case has been added to the long list of charges against Zhou.
By 2015, Zhou supporters in Sichuan had begun to be eliminated from positions of power. But some were still there. They might have been afraid that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche might be called upon to testify to Zhou’s (and their) wrongdoings. Or they could have believed that the Tibetan monk had already testified against Zhou and punished Tenzin Delek Rinpoche with death. Regardless, the clouds continue to gather over the suspicious official story of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death.