China’s Communist Party tightly regulates religious activity, especially the banned Falun Gong sect, but allows wide latitude for many law-abiding Catholics and Protestants who meet in unofficial house churches. Tibetan Buddhists however, are in a different category.
Their spiritual leader is the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing blames for stoking the deadly riots in Lhasa last March. Although he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, the Dalai Lama is routinely described in official state media reports as a wolf in monk’s clothing, an evil and dangerous separatist. In December, China stunned European leaders by canceling a summit on the economic crisis because the E.U. president had planned to meet the Dalai Lama the same week.
For now, most Chinese who practice Tibetan Buddhism are able to worship under the radar because their numbers remain comparatively small and their movement is not organized. Followers meet in private homes to recite sutras and compare knowledge or gather in apartments where wealthy benefactors have set up elaborate shrines. Many appear to be unaware of regulations intended to restrict their worship.