DAMMIT JANET! has a project for the new Office of Religious
Speak up about assaults on Tibetans from guerrilla Xian missionaries.
Tibet is the K2 of the evangelical Christian world – missionaries see it as a formidable yet crucial undertaking, a last spiritual frontier. Of the 400 foreigners living in Xining, most are missionaries, estimates Chris [pseudonym for missionary interviewed].While Tibetans might be a tough sell, Chinese authorities are not so much.
Proselytising has been illegal in China since 1949, when Mao Zedong declared western missionaries "spiritual aggressors" and deported them en masse, so today's evangelists work undercover as students, teachers, doctors, and business owners. Moreover, Tibetans are tough customers in the market for souls – Buddhism is central to their cultural identity, making them notoriously difficult to convert.
More than 10 people interviewed for this article said that Chinese authorities in Tibetan areas were selectively tolerant of missionaries for reasons that range from pragmatic to borderline sinister. One is that they are a boon to local economies – they open lucrative businesses and teach at local schools for next to nothing, supplementing their meagre salaries with donations from home. Authorities may also consider missionaries politically trustworthy, reluctant to undermine their spiritual missions by openly criticising regional policies.Makes sense. China is deploying religious homeopathy against Tibetan Buddhism.
And lastly, the government may welcome them as a powerful counterforce to Tibetan Buddhism, with its electrifying political overtones.
"China isn't trying to destroy religion by any means, but they're trying to destroy certain parts of Tibetan religion," said [Robbie Barnett, a leading Tibet expert at Columbia University]. "They're not the same project by any means, but they certainly have some congruency."
Why is Tibet such a big deal to Xians?
Most missionaries in Tibet belong to nondenominational organisations which believe that Jesus Christ will return to the earth only when people from every social, cultural and linguistic group have been exposed to his teachings. These groups view mass conversion as a high form of ecclesiastical service, and as such, their tactics can be covert and transactional. Some lure young Tibetans with the promise of English lessons or professional training and coax them into conversion after making sure of their loyalty. Various Tibetans in Xining expressed disgust with this tactic. One likened it to bribery.And Tibet has been the holy grail for quite a while, using similar 'covert transactions'.
The first missionary to make any significant headway in Tibet was a Portuguese Jesuit named António de Andrade who, in 1624, infiltrated the region disguised as a Hindu pilgrim.Faced by both China's selective tolerance and Tibetans' disgust, the zealots get creative.
Missionaries have adopted a range of tactics to combat these obstacles, but none have proven consistently successful. In the 1990s, many would distribute religious leaflets in predominantly Buddhist areas. Evangelical blogs describe the process: often by cover of night, "tract-bombing" teams on tourist visas would stuff the leaflets into letterboxes and nail them to monastery walls. These missions tended to invite more hostility than curiosity. Missionaries were often arrested by high-strung officials or chased away by monks.Here's an excerpt from the tract-bombing blog.
I dropped in at this one Hui (muslim) restaurant to get something to eat. I asked for noodles (which is a staple among the muslims) expecting to get the usual bowl of broth filled with noodles and spices. Instead I received a plate of weird looking thick noodles topped with sponges. Yes, sponges. They looked like sponges and tasted like sponges (unfortunately I do know what sponges taste like). The only difference was that they did not chew like sponges. I have no idea what it was but it wasn’t that great. After forcing down most of it so that I would not offend the cook I asked for a bag to bring the rest with me and left. It is an interesting experience going out to eat in a land where you don’t know what they are saying or how to order what you want. Try it sometime. Broadens your perspectives greatly.This is the sort of sophisticate sent to convert the heathens. (And why, pray tell, does this guy know what sponges taste like?)
Here's the challenge. Will the Office of Religious Freedom protest the use of lying, sneaking Xian evangelicals by China in its campaign to eradicate Tibetan Buddhism?
Surely Tibetans' freedom of religion matters too?
Image source. (Get used to seeing it, dear readers.)