Tenzin Dilek Rinpoche: Strange Relationship with Chu Yongkang

The disgraced former member of the (Chinese) Politburo is now serving a life sentence for corruption. Was his downfall related to the death (or murder) of the famous monk?

by Lopsang Gurung

In January of this year, Better Winter reported the persecution of relatives of Tenzin Dilek Rinpoche, a charismatic Tibetan monk from Sichuan, who was accused of “terrorism” and sentenced to death in 2002. After an international rally, the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He died on July 12, 2015 in Chengdu Chuandong Prison. Protests broke out among the Tibetans, who did not believe the official statement of “heart failure”, claiming that the monk had been killed.

Netizens in China and abroad are now discussing a document posted online by human rights activists last week, which summarizes the CPC’s internal speeches from 2000 delivered by Zhou Yongkang, the new party secretary in Sichuan, and which includes a “10-year action plan for ethnic education” illustrated Sermons call for the province to “reprimand” the province’s Tibetan-speaking Buddhists and teach their children Chinese instead of Tibetan Zhou called for the replacement of monastic education by enrolling Tibetan-speaking children in the Chinese public school system.

At that time, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche ran a very successful network of schools in Amdo and Kham, two regions that are part of Historic Tibet but are not part of the Tibet Autonomous Region today. It was widely recognized that the quality of education could be favourable compared to public schools, and they emphasized the Tibetan identity, which pleased the parents.

In 2001 and 2002, three bombs exploded in mysterious incidents in Sichuan, two in Garzi Tibet Autonomous County and one in the provincial capital Chengdu. The CPC claimed that a “Tibetan Buddhist terrorist group” was responsible for the bombings, and that Tenzin Dilek Rinpoche and his assistant Lobsang Dhondup were leaders. Both were sentenced to death after a trial in Chengdu in 2002. Lobsang Dhondup was executed in 2003.

Zhou’s letters show his relentless hostility to those who run private Tibetan schools, and lend credence to the theory espoused by many Sichuan Tibetans that Tenzin Dilek Rinpoche was framed by a false terrorist attack to destroy his educational institutions.

In 2002, Zhou was promoted to the position of Minister of Public Security, and in 2007 he became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, placing him at the highest level in the CPC hierarchy. As the Sichuan Tibetans can attest, he continued to rule Sichuan informally from Beijing through a clique of their subjects.

However, in 2013, Zhou was under investigation for corruption. He was arrested in 2014 and expelled from the Chinese Communist Party and sentenced to life in prison in 2015. It is widely believed that Zhou was part of a group of CCP leaders who tried to oppose Xi Jinping’s rise to power. They lost, and Chu was the first Politburo member to be tried in the Gang of Four case that followed the Cultural Revolution.

Chu was convicted on June 11, 2015, and Tenzin Dilek Rinpoche died in prison on July 12, 2015. Was this just a coincidence? Some netizens now think it wasn’t. Zhou was the evil genius behind the plot that led to the death sentence, which was later commuted, on Tenzin Dilek Rinpoche. While Xi Jinping certainly supports the “linearization” of Tibetan Buddhism and the eradication of Tibetan identity in Sichuan, in 2015 he was deeply concerned about potential opposition from Zhou’s powerful and vast network of followers. The abuse of the Tenzin Delek Rinpoche case has been added to the laundry list of charges against Zhou.

In 2015, Chu’s followers in Sichuan began to disappear from positions of power. But some of them were still in place. Perhaps they feared that Tenzin Delek Rinpoche would be called to testify about Chu’s misdeeds (and theirs). Or perhaps they thought that a Tibetan monk had already testified against Chu, and Tenzin Dilek Rinpoche had been punished with death. Whatever the case, clouds continue to build up around the suspicious official story of Tenzin Dilek Rinpoche’s death.

Lopsang Gurung uses a pseudonym for security reasons.

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