China’s nemesis


Having never met the Dalai Lama, I am not sure why he appears to be giggling so often.

Perhaps he is just overflowing with joy. Perhaps he has a great sense of humour and is waiting for an opportunity to share a joke. Perhaps he finds it incongruous that a simple monk travels the world like a leading diplomat or captain of industry. Or perhaps he is laughing at how foolish his travels make the People’s Republic of China look.

To be sure, what the PRC has done to Tibet and the Buddhist monks who animate its culture is no laughing matter. For over 50 years now, the PRC has set itself the goal of eliminating Tibet entirely as a political and cultural reality. The political task was easy enough to do by sheer force; Tibet has disappeared from the map as a political entity. The cultural task has proven harder — to change a culture by force is an act of violence, and a bloody one at that.

The PRC has moved against the cultural institutions of Tibet, primary among them the role of the Buddhist monks. Restrictions have been placed on their own internal decision-making and designation of leaders. Most pointedly, the Dalai Lama is forced to live in exile, as he refuses to accept the PRC’s swallowing of Tibet as legitimate.

China has yet to learn that sheer might and growing prosperity are not replacements for the rights of conscience and religious liberty. While the International Olympic Committee, and Google, and Mattel and others are perfectly willing to bow before the PRC leadership, the Dalai Lama and his monks are made of sturdier stuff. And nothing confounds the politically powerful more than the man of religion who bows only to his God. Whether the ancient pharaoh and Moses, Pilate and Jesus, Henry II and Thomas Becket, Henry VIII and Thomas More — the story is the same, and you would have thought the Chinese would be wise enough to learn it.

In making Beijing look foolish, they serve as a reminder that even the most fearsome regime is on shaky ground if it rules by fear and intimidation. China’s outrage is a measure of its insecurity.

“I hope the entire world gets the message that attacking a 72-year-old pacifist Buddhist monk who advocates nothing more than cultural autonomy for his people is counterproductive,” said Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Multiculturalism. It seems as if the world has already got the message and enjoys making Beijing look silly. Everyone wants to meet the Dalai Lama now, and aside from making a point about cultural autonomy and religious liberty, part of the reason must surely be the fun of watching sourfaced Chinese diplomats huffing and puffing and making empty threats.

While the Dalai Lama’s travels ensure that the question of Tibet remains before the world’s attention, they also accomplish another purpose. In making Beijing look foolish, they serve as a reminder that even the most fearsome regime is on shaky ground if it rules by fear and intimidation. China’s outrage is a measure of its insecurity. The Dalai Lama so enrages the Chinese because he is neither afraid of them, nor intimidated. He lives beyond their control, and though in exile, he has achieved a measure of freedom. That others might follow his lead is the fear that lurks in the cold hearts of Beijing’s dictators.

So unhinged has Beijing become over the Dalai Lama that this past summer they moved to prevent him from reincarnating himself as the next lama after his death. I do not believe in reincarnation and so am not concerned with the particulars of how it is supposedly accomplished, but surely a certificate of permission from the religious affairs bureaucracy is not essential.

Yet effective last Sept. 1, Beijing decreed that any reincarnations accomplished without official government permission were invalid. Of course the monks will ignore the decree, but it would be delightful to discover what the actual process was for obtaining a permission to reincarnate from the PRC government. No doubt the Chinese diplomats sent out to protest the Dalai Lama’s movements are embarrassed at having to represent a government attempting to regulate reincarnation. No doubt Beijing is embarrassed at publishing such decrees. But such is their fear that they are willing to look foolish rather than risk appearing weak.

It’s enough to make an old monk giggle.


Father Raymond J. de Souza, "China’s nemesis." National Post, (Canada) November 1, 2007.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2007 National Post

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