Two senior Communist Party officials formerly responsible for China’s religion apparatus have been accused of overseeing long-running corruption involving the naming of “Living Buddhas.”
Ye Xiaowen, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) for over a decade until 2009, and Zhu Weiqun, former head of the Tibet section of the United Front Work Department have both come under rare attack.
The accusations appear significant as it was Jiangbian Jiacuo, a respected Tibetan scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who made them on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, before being removed on Dec. 18.
The accusations remained on the websites of the Pu Shi Institute for Social Sciences in Beijing and Invisible Tibet, run by exiled Tibetan activist Tsering Woeser.
Accusations of rampant corruption, national security violations and other serious disciplinary offences by senior party officials are rarely written or published in public forums in China unless they are already being pursued by authorities.
“Director Ye, how much [money] did you dredge up yourself?” Jiangbian asks at the end of his first article published on Dec. 12.
In another post the next day accusing Zhu of corruption, Jiangbian questioned a Zhu statement that said money generated around “Living Buddhas” may have been used to fund separatist activity in Tibet, and asking who should be responsible for policy errors.
Living Buddhas, known as tulkus, are in great demand among China’s 200 million Buddhists who are prepared to donate large sums for the honor of receiving their blessing.
The title of a “Living Buddha” reportedly sells for more than 200,000 yuan (US$30,800) and many have been accused of selling out after appearing in television advertisements and online stores.
Many “Living Buddhas” were found to be fakes, according to an investigation published last August by Zhang Weiming, a researcher at the Sichuan Tibetan Buddhism Culture Research Center.
There may be as many as 10,000 people calling themselves “Living Buddhas” across China, Zhang estimated, even though the state has only recognized 1,700, suggesting 83 percent may be fraudulent.
“The phony tulkus are pervasive, which threatens the authority of the reincarnation system,” Zhang told the nationalistic tabloid “Global Times.”
Earlier this week, a self-proclaimed Living Buddha, Baima Aose, who ordained the Chinese actor Zhang Tielin issued an online apology and resigned from all posts after a Tibetan monastery denied certifying him.
In some cases, powerful officials in Tibet were found to have been bribed or had themselves chosen their own “Living Buddha” candidates.
In 2007, China initiated a law governing the selection and reincarnation of Living Buddhas, when Ye was director of SARA.
More than 100,000 people have been indicted for corruption over the past three-and-a-half years during a far-reaching anti-corruption campaign led by President Xi Jinping who is scheduled to oversee a major meeting on religion in the coming weeks.