Chapter 8 Southwest China 西南地区

In: Atlas of Religion in China: Social and Geographical Contexts
Open Access
MAP 113
MAP 113

Subregional map of Southwest China.

22. Chongqing 重庆

Land area: 82,300 km2

Population: 28,846,170

Topography

Chongqing became a municipality under the direct control of the central government in 1997, separating from Sichuan 四川. Situated on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River in southwest China, Chongqing municipality governs 26 urban districts and 12 counties. The municipality is surrounded by mountains and hills, including the Daba Mountains 大巴山 and the Wu Mountains 巫山 in the northeast corner of the province (Map 114). The whole area slopes down from the east toward the Yangtze River valley, with sharp rises and falls; it is crisscrossed by rivers, with the Yangtze River running through the whole province from southwest to northeast. The Chongqing city proper is located in the southwestern part of the municipality. In the northeast, the Yangtze River cuts through the Wu Mountains at three places, forming the well-known Three Gorges.

MAP 114

Known as one of the “three furnaces” of the Yangtze River, Chongqing has long, hot, and humid summers, with highs of 33°C–34°C in July and August. This municipality is the largest comprehensive industrial base in southwest China. Five backbone industries are well developed, including automobile and motorcycle production, chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing, construction and building material, food, and tourism. Today, Chongqing is developing its high-tech industries of information technology, bioengineering, and environmental protection. Mineral resources such as coal, natural gas, manganese, mercury, aluminum, and strontium are plentiful in this area. Situated at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers 嘉陵江, Chongqing City is a key transportation hub for river, rail, and air transportation in southwest China.

Demography

Despite the hilly terrain of the whole municipality, Chongqing is very densely populated, with an average of 1,069 people per square kilometer. The most populous area is Yuzhong 渝中 District, with more than 19,500 people per square kilometer. The total population of Chongqing shrank nearly 6 percent from 2000 to 2010. Given that the municipality is one of the main regions supplying peasant workers to the labor force of east coast cities, the decrease in population is not surprising. A large number of peasants migrate out of Chongqing for temporary employment.1

The percentage of people who completed college nearly doubled, rising from 3.0 percent in 2000 to 7.7 percent in 2010 (Maps 115–116). Meanwhile, the proportion of urban residents increased from 35.3 percent in 2000 to 51.5 percent in 2010. The percentage of one-generation households increased from 23.9 in 2000 to 41.4 percent in 2010, and the average family size shrank from 3.2 persons in 2000 to 2.7 in 2010.

MAP 115
MAP 115

Chongqing: Education in 2000.

MAP 116
MAP 116

Chongqing: Education in 2010.

Key Religious Facts

In Chongqing’s religious landscape (Map 117 and Figure 30), Buddhism is predominant, although there are a good number of Protestant churches in Chongqing City proper and a few notable Catholic churches in the northeastern prefectures. Some prefectures in the southeast did not report any religious sites in the 2004 Economic Census; this probably reflects underreporting instead of the absence of religious sites.

MAP 117
MAP 117

Chongqing: Religious sites.

FIGURE 30
FIGURE 30
FIGURE 30

Chongqing: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

In February 2016, Huayan Temple 华岩寺 in Chongqing introduced the first Buddhist charity app in China for use on mobile phones. The project was initiated by Abbot Daojian 道见 and facilitated by the Huayan Foundation for Education and Culture 华严文化教育基金会. The app allows users to listen to sutra recitations, take a virtual temple tour, communicate with fellow Buddhist followers around the country, and participate in Huayan’s charity events.2 The rapid renaissance of Buddhism in contemporary China has brought with it a new growth in Buddhist-run and Buddhist-inspired charities, and the government has tolerated and in some cases supported such growth.3 In addition, these activities have enhanced cooperation across the Taiwan Strait.4

“Red tourism” is an emerging new form of pseudo-religious cultural tourism in China (Photo 25). It refers to organized trips that are constructed as political pilgrimages and emphasize visiting national sacred places, such as the birthplace and residence of past communist leaders, battlefields, and revolutionary martyrs’ cemeteries and memorials, in order to learn about the nation’s revolutionary history and to boost national pride. Hongyan Village 红岩村 in Chongqing is one such destination, where tourists can commemorate the martyrdom of Communists who were killed by Guomindang authorities in the late 1940s. Today tourists swarm the village’s museums and the local government has staged a play dramatizing historical events. Revolutionary narratives usually impress upon visitors the heroes’ deaths and the victorious battles in which they gave their lives.5

PHOTO 25
PHOTO 25

An entryway to a Chairman Mao shrine (Xiushan Ethnic Autonomous County, Chongqing).

Credit: Huangjunyan Xu.

23. Sichuan 四川

Land area: 485,000 km2

Population: 80,417,528

Capital: Chengdu 成都

Topography

Located in the southwestern part of China, Sichuan is the fifth-largest province in the country and occupies an important position on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, serving as a critical intersection in the southwest region. There are 21 prefectures, including 49 urban districts, 15 county-level cities, and 119 counties. Ethnic minorities comprise 6 percent of the total population, including Tibetan, Yi, Qiang 羌, and Naxi 纳西 people. Known as “the province of abundance,” Sichuan is endowed with a favorable natural environment, rich specialty products, and an ample labor force. This province has the strongest economy in western China, thanks to agriculture and the aerospace and military industries.

Sichuan consists of two geographically distinct regions (Map 118). Major cities are located in the fertile Sichuan Basin 四川盆地 in the east. The western part of Sichuan comprises numerous mountain ranges that form the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Major mountains are the Min Mountains 岷山 in the north and the Daxue Mountains 大雪山 in the middle. Sichuan literally means “four rivers” in Chinese and refers to the Jialing River the Tuo River 沱江, the Yalong River 雅砻江, and the Jinsha River 金沙江. The extreme variation in Sichuan’s topography is matched by distinct climates. The eastern lowlands are characterized by warm and hot summers, while the western part of Sichuan has a typical plateau climate, with long winters, cool summers, and lots of sunshine.

Demography

The overall population density of Sichuan reflects the geography of the province: the Sichuan Basin in the east is far more populous than the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau 青藏高原 in the west. The distribution of population has not changed much since 2000. Population density is very high in the cities of Chengdu, Neijiang 内江, and Suining 遂宁, while in the west it is very low. The total population of Sichuan in 2000 was 82,348,296, which declined by 2.3 percent to 80,417,528 in 2010.

One of the significant shifts in Sichuan society is the increasing proportion of elderly persons in the population, which may be the consequence of a rise in the number of young people who have emigrated to other provinces for employment.6 The proportion of people aged 60 years old and above has increased greatly from 10.7 percent in 2000 to 15 percent in 2010 (Maps 119–120). Places with a substantially high proportion of elderly people tend to be well-developed cities, such as Chengdu, and also those adjacent to Chongqing, like Guang’an 广安 and Dazhou 达州.

MAP 119
MAP 119

Sichuan: Elderly population in 2000.

MAP 120
MAP 120

Sichuan: Elderly population in 2010.

Family structure in Sichuan has also experienced significant changes. The proportion of one-generation families increased dramatically between 2000 and 2010. In the three ethnic minority autonomous prefectures that comprise the western part of Sichuan, the average family size is relatively large, with five or more members per family.

Key Religious Facts

The predominant religion in Sichuan is Buddhism. Buddhist temples are concentrated in the western part of the province as well as in the Sichuan Basin. In fact, the Sichuan Basin has a high degree of religious diversity, including Buddhist and Daoist temples, Catholic and Protestant churches, and Islamic mosques (Map 121 and Figure 31). There is also a concentration of mosques in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture 凉山彝族自治州 in the south, and some mosques in the counties in the north. Protestant and Catholic churches are also found in the southern and northern prefectures.

MAP 121
FIGURE 31
FIGURE 31
FIGURE 31

Sichuan: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

According to the 2004 Economic Census, 1,413 of Sichuan’s 1,856 official religious sites were registered as Buddhist. Given the fact that the western part of Sichuan includes many Tibetans, many of the province’s Buddhist sites belong to Tibetan Buddhism. Kirti Monastery 格尔登寺, the largest Gelug school temple, is one of the most famous Tibetan Buddhist monasteries located in western Sichuan. The temple was formerly known as the “cave temple,” and it served as the headquarters for the Red Army (the forerunner of the People’s Liberation Army) during the Long March (October 1934–October 1935), a military retreat led by the Communist Party to evade the pursuing Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) army. Given the tensions between Tibetans and the government, Buddhist monasteries have increasingly become sites of resistance and protests.7 In March 2015, Tibetan monk Lobsang Tsering of Kirti Monastery protested against the Chinese government’s religious policies concerning the Dalai Lama 达赖喇嘛, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. He held up a portrait of the Dalai Lama and threw prayer leaflets before the police arrived and arrested him. Lobsang was released from custody in August 2015 after being detained for two months. Other Buddhist institutions in Sichuan also share the sentiment of resistance against state suppression. The Seda Larung Buddhist Institute (Wumin Foyuan 五明佛院, the Buddhist Institute of the Five Sciences), a world-renowned center for the study of Tibetan Buddhism, was established to provide an ecumenical training in Tibetan Buddhism (Photo 26). It has been a major tourist attraction since the 1980s. The government has periodically torn down the dormitories of the institute in an attempt to regulate and contain it.

PHOTO 26
PHOTO 26

Wuming Buddhist Academy (Garze Tibet Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan).

Credit: Peng Liang.

Sichuan is also an important base of Han Buddhism where a number of historical and famous Buddhist temples have been situated. Wenshuyuan 文殊院, an influential temple with a history of about 1,400 years, is one example. This temple covers an area of about 82 mu 亩 (about 13.5 acres). The relics of the Buddha and Xuanzang 玄奘 kept in this temple have been an attraction for Buddhist followers throughout the country.8

Christianity entered Sichuan in 1868 through the work of British missionaries, and the first church in the province was founded in 1881. Foreign missionaries contributed to the development of education and medical care. In 1910, for example, West China Union University 华西协和大学 was established as a mission school, the predecessor of the medical college at Sichuan University.9 Churches have played important roles during recent natural disasters in the province (Photo 27).

PHOTO 27
PHOTO 27

Nuns from Wushun Catholic Church assist after the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008.

Credit: Xiaoxiong Zhou

One of the largest and most resilient house churches is in Sichuan. Early Rain Reformed Church (Qiuyu zhifu 秋雨之福归正教会) was established in Chengdu in 2005. Self-identified as a house church that refuses to join the TSPM, the church has been pressured by the authorities to dissolve. However, under the leadership of Pastor Wang Yi 王怡, the church has persisted and grown. In 2008, the church filed a lawsuit against the Religious Affairs Bureau for illegally shutting down the church.10 In recent years, several other house churches in Chengdu have joined Early Rain Reformed Church to form the Presbytery of West China Reformed Churches, which has established a seminary and a day school and founded a college of liberal arts. The church has social service ministries for the relief of earthquake victims, families of jailed political prisoners, and petitioners (fangmin 访民) whose family members suffered injustices.11

24. Guizhou 贵州

Land area: 176,000 km2

Population: 34,748,556

Capital: Guiyang 贵阳

Topography

Guizhou province is comprised of 9 prefectures, including 15 urban districts, 8 county-level cities, and 65 counties. Guizhou features a rugged karst topography with numerous precipitous peaks, deep valleys, caves, and underground rivers (Map 122). The western and central parts of Guizhou, which are part of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau 云贵高原, have a high altitude of 2,000 meters above sea level in average, while the eastern part of the province gradually slopes downward. The Wuling Mountains 武陵山 in the northeastern part of the province are a key natural preserve of China. In the central part of the province, the Miao Mountains 苗岭 sit between the Yangtze River system and the Pearl River system. The province’s major rivers all have broad upstreams but narrow downstreams and thus become excellent sources of hydropower. The climate in most regions of Guizhou is mild and wet. Rainfall is ample and annual temperatures range between 14°C and 18°C.

Although economically underdeveloped, Guizhou is rich in natural, cultural, and environmental resources. The province boasts nearly four thousand species of wild flora and about one thousand species of wild fauna, making it an important center of biological diversity in the nation. Guizhou is also one of the nation’s four regions with abundant herbs for Chinese medicine.

Demography

The total population was 34,748,556 in 2010, of which 36 percent belonged to ethnic minority groups. Forty-two percent of the Miao (Hmong) people in China, 50 percent of China’s Dong people, 88 percent of Bouyei 布依people, and 90 percent of Gelao 仡佬 people live in south-central Guizhou.

Guizhou’s population is not evenly distributed. More people live in the southeast part of the province than in the western and central parts. The total population of Guizhou decreased slightly by 1.4 percent between 2000 and 2010 due to emigration to other provinces. From 2000 to 2010, education and urbanization in Guizhou improved moderately. The percentage of people who received at least a college education rose from 1.8 percent to 4.8 percent, which is significantly lower than the national average. In 2000, only 23.1 percent of the population was registered as nonagricultural, while by 2010, 30.8 percent of the total population were listed as urban residents. Despite the increase, the level of urbanization did not reach the national average, which was 45.7 percent in 2010.

The proportion of elderly persons in the general population increased significantly from 9.6 percent in 2000 to 13.5 percent in 2010, while the proportion of people between ages 15 and 34 decreased from 63.9 percent to 52.2 percent, suggesting that many young people left Guizhou to seek work in other provinces (Maps 123–124). More male than female youths moved out to seek employment, mainly in coastal provinces.12

MAP 123
MAP 123

Guizhou: Young population in 2000.

MAP 124
MAP 124

Guizhou: Young population in 2010.

Family structure has also changed greatly over the decade. The percentage of one-generation households nearly doubled, rising from 17.7 in 2000 to 32.5 in 2010. Correspondingly, the family size became smaller. The average family size decreased from 3.7 persons in 2000 to 3.2 in 2010. However, the sex ratio among infants under one year old increased from 114.4 males per 100 females in 2000 to 123.7 in 2010.

Key Religious Facts

The religious landscape of Guizhou shows a predominance of Buddhist temples in most of the prefectures except Bijie 毕节, where there are large numbers of Islamic mosques and Protestant churches. In the western prefectures of Liupanshui 六盘水 and Anshun 安顺, there is a mix of Buddhist and Daoist temples, Protestant and Catholic churches, and Islamic mosques (Map 125 and Figure 32). Buddhist temples (Photo 28) are found throughout central Guizhou, while Islamic mosques and Christian churches are found in the west. A small number of Catholic churches are located in the southwestern and northern parts of the province. Meanwhile, in the ethnic minority autonomous prefectures in the south and east, different ethnic groups have maintained their traditional religions, even though they are not reflected in the 2004 Economic Census.

MAP 125
FIGURE 32
FIGURE 32
FIGURE 32

Guizhou: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

PHOTO 28
PHOTO 28

Monk on Mount Fanjing, Guizhou.

Credit: Chaoqing He.

Guizhou has long been trapped in poverty and underdevelopment, with both a nominal GDP and a GDP per capita below the national average.13 Poverty relief has been a major concern of the government. In recent years, religious groups in Guizhou have begun a campaign entitled “Five Religions Work Together to Help the World in Five Ways” (wuzhu renjian, wujiao tongxing 五助人间、五教同行), aiming to address the issue of poverty through improvements in schooling, medical service, and elderly care.14

25. Yunnan 云南

Land area: 394,000 km2

Population: 45,966,766

Capital: Kunming 昆明

Topography

Yunnan Province in the southwest corner of China borders on Vietnam, Laos, and Burma. It consists of 16 prefectures, including 13 urban districts, 14 county-level cities, and 102 counties. Ethnic minorities in Yunnan account for about 33 percent of its total population, including Yi, Bai 白, Hani 哈尼, Zhuang, Dai 傣, Lisu 傈僳, and Miao (Hmong) people. The terrain gradually slopes from the northwest to the southeast, with a series of high mountain chains spreading across the province (Map 126). Several mountains dominate the northwestern part of Yunnan. To the south and east, the province is part of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau Rivers flowing through the deep valleys between the mountains include the Jinsha River in the northeast, and the Lancang River 澜沧江 and the Nu River 怒江 in the northwest. Lakes such as Lake Dian 滇池 and Lake Er 洱海 dot the province. Yunnan enjoys warm winters and temperate summers, with slight seasonal differences. A wide range of agriculture is practiced in Yunnan, including farming, forestry, animal husbandry, and tobacco production.

Demography

Yunnan’s northeast areas in the Hengduan Mountains 横断山脉 and the border regions in the west and south have few residents. Its eastern and central regions, part of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, are more populous. The total population in Yunnan increased by 9 percent between 2000 and 2010, from 42,360,089 to 45,966,766.

In 2000, only 2 percent of the population had completed a college education. The ratio increased to 5.7 percent a decade later. There are higher proportions of well- educated people in the cities of Kunming, Pu’er 普洱, and Chuxiong 楚雄. However, Yunnan is one of China’s relatively underdeveloped provinces and faces some challenging social issues. Yunnan is a key channel of illicit drug trafficking from the “Golden Triangle” in Southeast Asia to other provinces, and a major site of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.15 Moreover, rural poverty reduction is a serious task for the local government.16 Between 2000 and 2010, the proportion of aged people increased in the central counties but remained stable in the east, west, and south (Maps 127–128).

MAP 127
MAP 127

Yunnan: Elderly population in 2000.

MAP 128
MAP 128

Yunnan: Elderly population in 2010.

Key Religious Facts

The religious landscape of Yunnan shows a diversity of religions and some regional concentrations. In fact, Kunming, Chuxiong 楚雄, and Zhaotong 昭通 have high degrees of religious diversity, with good numbers of Protestant churches, Buddhist temples, and Islamic mosques (Map 129 and Figure 33). Protestant churches are particularly concentrated in Pu’er in the south, Kunming and Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture 楚雄彝族自治州 in the north-central region, and Zhaotong in the northeast. There are also some Protestant churches in Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture 德宏傣族景颇族自治州 in the far west. Baoshan 保山 in western Yunnan has a concentration of Daoist temples. There are also a good number of Daoist temples in eastern Chuxiong. Buddhist temples are concentrated in the southwestern and north-central prefectures. Catholic churches are scattered in various places, with clusters in Kunming, Qujing 曲靖, and Hong He Hani and Yi Autonomous Prefecture 红河哈尼族彝族自治州. According to one recent official report, there were about 4.3 million religious believers in Yunnan, among which Buddhists formed the largest group, consisting of around 2.8 million followers. Muslims and Protestants ranked second and third in number, respectively. The total number of Muslims was estimated to be 640,000 and that of Protestants 580,000, but the latter figure probably included only people belonging to officially sanctioned churches. Daoism and Catholicism had relatively small numbers of believers.17

MAP 129
FIGURE 33
FIGURE 33
FIGURE 33

Yunnan: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

There are 26 ethnic minority groups in Yunnan. Due to the province’s identification with the site of the legendary Shangri-La 香格里拉—a lost paradise in many outsiders’ imaginaries—ethnic tourism has flourished in Yunnan. Ethnic tourism since the 1980s has made Yunnan a showcase of China’s ethnicities (Photo 29).18 Indeed, in 2001 the government changed the name of Zhongdian 中甸 County 中甸县 to Shangri-La and in 2014 reorganized it as Shangri-La City. At the same time, different ethnic groups within the province are striving to negotiate their own cultural identity, historical memory, and collective belonging in the context of globalization.

PHOTO 29
PHOTO 29

A ceremony performed by members of the Jingpo ethnic group (Kachang Town, Yingjiang County, Yunnan).

Credit: Peng Li.

The history of Yunnan’s Hui Muslims can be traced back to a thousand years or so ago. The Muslim presence vastly increased with the arrival of Kublai Khan’s armies in 1253. In later dynasties, the Hui people began to integrate with others while maintaining a distinctive religious identity. In 1975, during the Cultural Revolution, when all religious activities were prohibited by the authorities and mosques were closed down, Yunnan Muslims continued to pray secretly at home. Conflict escalated when the Maoists criticized the conservative Muslims and compelled them to eat pork as a sign of identification with and loyalty to the party-state. The incident culminated in a massacre perpetrated by troops against the Muslims, resulting in the death of about 1,600 Hui in Shadian 沙甸 and Najiaying 纳家营 and the destruction of 4,400 houses.19 In light of the historical conflicts, the reconstruction of Najiaying Mosque in 2001 represents an official endeavor to ease ethnic-religious tensions. As the largest mosque in Yunnan, Najiaying Mosque has become a tourist attraction.

Roman Catholicism was brought to Yunnan during the late Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) and the early Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). In Cizhong 茨中, a small village in Diqing Tibetan Prefecture 迪庆藏族自治州, some local residents converted to Catholicism around one hundred years ago and began to adopt Christian names, gradually forsaking the Tibetan names given by lamas. China Daily, the official state news outlet, claimed in a report on Cizhong that “Christianity and Buddhism are similar in terms of advocating good deeds” and that “they differ only in forms.”20 This official remark seems to gloss over the tensions and conflicts that have persisted.21

26. Xizang 西藏 (Tibet)

Land area: 1,228,400 km2

Population: 3,002,166

Capital: Lhasa 拉萨

Topography

The Tibet Autonomous Region, called Xizang or Tibet for short, is in southwestern China and ranks second among China’s provinces in total area. There are, however, only 3 million residents, making it the least densely populated province in China. Xizang is divided into 7 prefectures, which are subdivided into a total of 68 counties and 5 urban districts. More than 90 percent of residents are Tibetans.

Tibet has various complex landforms, such as high and steep mountains, deep valleys, glaciers, bare rock, and deserts (Map 130). Surrounded by enormous mountains, Tibet is dominated by the vast and dry Tibetan Plateau 青藏高原, with an average elevation of 5,000 meters above sea level. The western and southern border of the Tibetan Plateau is formed by the Himalayan Mountains 喜马拉雅山, whose highest peak is Mount Everest 珠穆朗玛峰. Located on the central Tibetan Plateau, the Gangdise Mountains 冈底斯山 and the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains 念青唐古拉山 extend from east to west, forming a huge mountain chain. This region is the source of some famous rivers, the largest being the Yarlung Zangbo River 雅鲁藏布江. The Tibetan Plateau is dotted with numerous lakes, including Lake Nam 纳木错 and Lake Siling 色林错.

Tibet experiences minimal seasonal variation but great temperature differences during a 24-hour period. Winters are cold, with an average temperature of −2°C in January. Summers have warm days with strong sunshine and cool nights. Although Tibet is also called the Land of Snows, its annual precipitation averages only 460 millimeters, with much of that falling during the summer months. The Tibet Autonomous Region is the least developed area in China due to its low population density and high transportation costs. Economic development in this area depends upon traditional agriculture, animal husbandry, financing from the central government, and the tourist industry.

Demography

Between 2000 and 2010, Tibet’s population increased nearly 15 percent. The majority of residents are Tibetan, and their spatial distribution did not change much over the decade. The number of immigrants from other provinces increased dramatically from 44,497 in 2000 to 165,423 in 2010, a 272.0 percent increase. The overall population density in Tibet remains very low, about 10 persons per square kilometer. The provincial capital, Lhasa, is relatively populous. In particular, the downtown district of Lhasa, Chengguan District 城关区, contains 402.4 persons per square kilometer.

The proportion of people who completed at least a college degree increased greatly from 1 percent in 2000 to 4 percent in 2010, although this was still significantly below the national average of 7 percent (Maps 131–132). However, the urbanization of Tibet has not changed much. The percentage of urban residents was 15 percent in 2000 and 17 percent in 2010, much lower than the national average of 45.7 percent in 2010.

There was an overall decrease in the percentage of young persons and a slight increase in the elderly population. The proportion of people between ages 15 and 34 shrank from 69.3 percent in 2000 to 63.8 percent in 2010, while the percentage of people aged 60 and above was 7.6 percent in 2000 and 7.8 in 2010. Consistent with the slow pace of urbanization in Tibet, family structure did not change much. The average number of persons per household was 4.8 in 2000, declining to 4.2 in 2010. The proportion of one-generation households in 2000 was 19.1 percent, and it rose to 21.2 percent in 2010.

MAP 131
MAP 132

Key Religious Facts

Tibetan Buddhism is the most common religion in Tibet. According to one official source, there are more than 1,700 Tibetan Buddhist temples or monasteries and 46,000 monks and nuns (Map 133 and Figure 34).22 Lhasa, the provincial capital, is also its cultural and religious center, where most Buddhist sites in Tibet are located. Tibetan Buddhism has four different schools: Nyingma 宁玛, Kagyu 噶举, Sakya, 萨迦, and Gelug 格鲁. Among the four schools, Gelug has the most authority today and includes among its adherents the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama 班禅喇嘛, the most influential leaders among Tibetans, who are believed to have been reincarnated for generations from the earliest Buddhas. Bon 苯教, an indigenous religion, was the dominant religion in Tibet until the introduction of Buddhism in the seventh century. Some practices and beliefs of Bon have been absorbed into Tibetan Buddhism. Today, Bon has about 88 temples with 3,000 monks and more than 130,000 followers.

MAP 133
FIGURE 34
FIGURE 34
FIGURE 34

Xizang: Distribution of religious sites by prefecture.

Muslims have lived in Tibet since the eighth century and trace their origins to Kashmir, Persia, and the Central Asian Turkic countries. According to an official report, there are four mosques serving 3,000 Muslims in Tibet.23

In recent years, despite rapid economic development, rising living standards, and large-scale improvements in infrastructure and services, the Tibet Autonomous Region and the surrounding areas with a majority of ethnic Tibetans have experienced waves of ethnic unrest. In March 2008, a crowd of Tibetans broke into a store in Lhasa owned by Han Chinese and subsequently attacked people of the Han, Hui, and other ethnic groups. Many of the shops and restaurants attacked during the riot were owned by Muslims. A mob tried to storm the city’s main mosque and succeeded in setting fire to the front gate.24 This serves as an example of the continuing ethnic and religious conflict in Tibet.25

Christian missionaries have regarded evangelizing Tibet as a formidable yet crucial undertaking. Yanjing Church 盐井教堂 is currently the only known Catholic church in Tibet; it is located in the very southeast in Chamdo 昌都 Prefecture. Originally built in 1865 by perseverant missionaries who brought Catholicism to this village, it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt in 1987. Currently the church has about 650 members. In 2005, the government appointed Father Ding, the second Tibetan priest in China, to pastor this parish. Father Ding took the congregation to the St. Francis Cathedral in Xi’an for Mass in 2010, which was the first time that Tibetan Catholics participated in a mass celebrated by a bishop.26

Tibet has been a center for Tibetan Buddhism since the seventh century (Photo 30). In recent years, the government has been tactfully managing religious and ethnic conflicts through economic development and cultural homogenization. Today in Tibet, tourism has evolved as a lucrative and ever-expanding industry, helping to maintain social stability, which is much emphasized by the government. China’s official news outlet, the China Daily, reported that more than 6.8 million Chinese and foreign tourists had already visited Tibet in the first half of 2016.27 Cultivating tourism is a key part of the Great Western Development Strategy (Xibu dakaifa 西部大开发), a plan adopted by the Chinese government in 2000 for developing the nation’s western regions. The plan’s impact on Tibet, however, is better assessed in terms of its possible effects on culture rather than the economy.28 Most Tibetans believe the plan is certain to result in cultural dilution and marginalization.

PHOTO 30
PHOTO 30

A Buddhist member of the Nakhi ethnic group in Yanjing, Mangkang, Tibet.

Credit: Yinan Wang.
1

Wangyixinwen, “The Number of Emigrants in Major Provinces.”

2

Ifeng, “Chongqing Huayan Temple Launches the First Domestic Buddhist Charity App.”

3

Laliberté, “Buddhist Revival under State Watch”; Ashiwa, “Positioning Religion in Modernity: State and Buddhism in China.”

4

Laliberté, “Buddhist Revival under State Watch”; idem, “‘Buddhist for the Human Realm’ and Taiwanese Democracy”; Madsen, Democracy’s Dharma, 76.

5

Takayama, “Red Tourism in China.”

6

Liang, Li, and Ma, “Changing Patterns of the Floating Population in China.”

7

W. W. Smith, Jr., Tibet’s Last Stand?, 26.

8

Chengdu Buddhism, “Buddhist Temples in Chengdu.”

9

Y. Wang 王怡, “A Brief Historical Account of Christianity in Sichuan Province.”

10

Human Rights in China, “Chengdu House Church Files First Suit in China against Government Religious Authority.”

11

I. Johnson, The Souls of China.

12

Liang, Li, and Ma, “Changing Patterns of the Floating Population in China.”

13

PR Newswire, “China’s Rural Guizhou Province to Address Poverty with Culture Diversity and Tourism.”

14

Z. Jiang, “Religious Groups in Guizhou Province Encouraged to Help Poverty Reduction.”

15

Lu et al., “The Changing Face of HIV in China,” 609–611.

16

Donaldson, “Tourism, Development and Poverty Reduction in Guizhou and Yunnan”; Glauben et al., “Persistent Poverty in Rural China: Where, Why, and How to Escape?”.

17

Yunnannet, “Major Characteristics of Religions in Yunan.”

18

Hillman, “Paradise under Construction.”

19

McCarthy, “If Allah Wills It”; Israeli, “A New Wave of Muslim Revivalism in China”; Xian Wang, “Islamic Religiosity,” 1; Rong, Gönül, and Xiaoyan, Hui Muslims in China, 69.

20

China Daily, “Catholicism Flourishes in Tibetan Village.”

21

Lim, “Negotiating ‘Foreignness,’ Localizing Faith.”

22

Xizang Pindao, “Religions in Xizang.”

23

Xizang Pindao, “Religions in Xizang.”

24

Economist, “Fire on the Roof of the World”; Guardian, “‘Oh My God, Someone Has a Gun’”.

25

Hillman and Tuttle, Ethnic Conflict and Protest in Tibet and Xinjiang, 3–5.

26

Tubilewicz, Critical Issues in Contemporary China; Hillman, “Interpreting the post-2008 Wave of Protest and Conflict in Tibet.”

27

China Daily, “Tibet Receives Over 6.8m Tourists in First Half of 2016.”

28

Cooke, “Merging Tibetan Culture into the Chinese Economic Fast Lane.”