The disgraced former member of the (Chinese) Politburo is now serving a life sentence for corruption. Was his fall related 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. Following an international mobilization, his death sentence was commuted to life in prison. . He died on July 12, 2015 in Chengdu Chuandong Prison. Protests erupted among Tibetans who did not believe the official statement of “heart failure”, claiming the monk had been murdered.
Internet users in China and beyond are now discussing a document released online by human rights activists last week, which summarizes internal CCP speeches from the year 2000 by Zhou Yongkang, then Sichuan’s new party secretary, and outlines a “Ten-Year Action Plan for Ethnic Education The speakers call for the “sinisation” of Tibetan-speaking Buddhists in the province and the teaching of their children in Chinese instead of Tibetan. Zhou called for replacing the monastic education with the enrollment of Tibetan-speaking children in the official Chinese school system.
At that time, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche led a very successful network of schools in Amdo and Kham, two regions that are part of historic Tibet but not part of today’s Tibet Autonomous Region. It was widely acknowledged that the quality of education could be favorable compared to public schools, and they confirmed the Tibetan identity, which pleased the parents.
In 2001 and 2002, three bombs exploded in obscure incidents in Sichuan, two in the Garzê Tibet Autonomous Prefecture and one in the provincial capital Chengdu. The CCP claimed that a “terrorist Tibetan Buddhist group” was responsible for the bombings and that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and his aide Lobsang Dhondup were the leaders. Both were sentenced to death after a trial in Chengdu in 2002. Lobsang Dhondup was executed in 2003.
Zhou’s speech demonstrates his relentless hostility towards those who run private Tibetan schools, and trusts the theory held by many Sichuan Tibetans that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche was hit by a false terrorist attack to destroy his educational institutions.
In 2002, Zhou was promoted to National Minister of Public Security, and in 2007 he became a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, placing him at the highest level in the CCP hierarchy. As Tibetans in Sichuan can attest, he continued to rule Sichuan unofficially from Beijing through a clique of protégés.
But in 2013, Zhou was under investigation for corruption. He was arrested in 2014, deported from the CCP and sentenced to life in prison in 2015. It is widely believed that Zhou was part of a group of CCP leaders who had tried to oppose Xi Jinping’s takeover. They lost, and Zhou was the first member of the Politburo to stand trial in the Gang of Four case that followed the Cultural Revolution.
Zhou was convicted on June 11, 2015, and Tenzin Delek Rinpoche died in prison on July 12, 2015. Was this just a coincidence? Some network users now believe that it was not. Zhou was the evil genius behind the plot that led to the death sentence, which was later transformed, over Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. While Xi Jinping is certainly in favor of the “sinisation” of Tibetan Buddhism and the eradication of Tibetan identity in Sichuan, in 2015 he was deeply concerned about possible opposition from Zhou’s powerful and vast network of followers. Abuse of the Tenzin Delek Rinpoche case was added to the laundry list of charges against Zhou.
In 2015, Zhou’s supporters in Sichuan began to disappear from positions of power. But some were still in place. Perhaps they feared that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche would be called to testify about Zhou’s (and their) misdeeds. Or maybe they thought the Tibetan monk had already testified against Zhou and punished Tenzin Delek Rinpoche with death. Whatever the case, the clouds continue to pile up over the suspicious official story of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche’s death.
Lopsang Gurung uses a pseudonym for security reasons.