An identifiable feature of Tibetan culture is its prayer flags. These can be seen almost everywhere in Tibet — rooftops of homes, in mountains, holy places, monasteries, and so on. These prayer flags are believed to ward off evil and are part of Tibetan Buddhist beliefs. As such, it is no wonder that the Chinese Communist Party is now hard at work removing all these flags so that they can achieve their ultimate goal of eradicating the Tibetan Buddhist culture.
Attacking Tibetan flags
Beijing is describing the flag destruction program as a “behavioral reform.” The program is believed to have started in March this year, with about 5,900 monks from 66 monasteries “participating” in it. Officials from the government called a meeting of local people and ordered that they take down the flags to “clean up” the environment. The effort is being headed by the local police force. In addition to the prayer flags, even the poles on which they were hung are being removed.
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“This is an act of contempt and utter disregard for local Tibetans’ customs and faith… Chinese authorities in general have always vowed to eliminate any Tibetan behavior that they say will harm people’s productivity and adversely affect their livelihood… Thus, the authorities have now set out to root out this Tibetan tradition of hanging prayer flags everywhere, directing local officials, the heads of monasteries, and relevant authorities at the district and township level to carry out the order,” a source said to Radio Free Asia.
More than 6,000 public information materials conveying the propaganda of the Communist Party have been distributed in Golog, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, the region that has seen the widest flag-destruction efforts to date. Beijing will soon be expanding the project into all corners of Tibet, ensuring that not a single prayer flag will be seen in the region after a few years. The Chinese regime has also started ramping up restrictions and surveillance in Tibet in recent months. Exiled Tibetans report that some of their contacts in Tibet are unable to talk to them due to the increased crackdown on communications.
According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy that is based in Dharamshala, India, Chinese police forces have increased surveillance of Tibetan villages and monasteries this year in a bid to identify and root out all opposition to the Chinese occupation of the region. Political protests have been suppressed through digital monitoring and facial recognition.
Chinese officials have reiterated several times that when the current Dalai Lama dies, they will appoint a new leader that aligns with communist ideology. The U.S. has criticized the move, passing the Tibetan Policy and Support Act in January with an overwhelming majority. The act will recognize the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Buddhist community as having the sole right to decide on who becomes the future leader.
The Tibetan flags
According to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the first prayer flag was used by the Buddha himself. The color of the flag is linked to the elements they represent. The color blue represents the sky, yellow is earth, green stands for water, red represents fire, and white is for air. Together, these five colors symbolize balance. There is a misconception that the flags carry mantras to the gods. In reality, the mantras on the flags are believed to spread goodwill and positivity.
Most Tibetans will try to place the prayer flags as high as possible so that they flutter in the wind. This is due to the belief that the flags should never be still since if they become still, the spiritual vibrations won’t spread around. Putting the prayer flags on the ground is considered disrespectful. If the color of a flag is fading, it is considered a good omen since it symbolizes that the prayers have been carried away by the breeze.