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HindustanTimes Thu,24 Apr 2014

Tibet's conquest of China's Xi Jinping family

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, February 04, 2013
First Published: 00:01 IST(4/2/2013) | Last Updated: 00:02 IST(4/2/2013)

The new leader of China, Xi Jinping, has an unusually close and personal connection with the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism. That the Dalai Lama presented Xi's father a watch that the latter wore for years afterwards is well-known. What is less known is that Xi's mother was buried with full Tibetan Buddhist rites and Xi's wife has embraced the religion.

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Xi acceded to his the request of his mother, Qi Xin, to be buried with full Tibetan Buddhist rites, says Richard Rigby, Chinese expert at the Australian National University and a former analyst with the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation.

Xi's wife, a popular folk singer and an honorary major-general in the People's Liberation Army, is a well-known practioner of Tibetan Buddhism, say both Rigby and Tibetan scholar and activist Claude Arpi. Arpi says, "One of her songs is about the beauty of Tibet."

The Dalai Lama has often spoken of his friendship with Xi's father. But his gift of an Omega watch to the then Vice-Premier Xi Zhongxun took place in 1954 or 1955, before the Dalai Lama turned against Beijing.

Arpi says when Dalai Lama's brother held informal talks with Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s on Tibet, the rehabilitated Xi Zhongxun still wore the watch.

However, no one believes that Xi Jinping's exposure to Tibetan Buddhism will make much difference as far as Beijing's policy towards Lhasa is concerned.

First, Xi's father and the Dalai Lama were "friends" only in "the Chinese sense of the term" which is "a relationship of mutual political convenience," says Columbia University Tibetan scholar, Robert Barnett. Indian officials also believe there was little or no bond between them.

Second, Xi Jinping heads a collective leadership which cannot waver from the principle that Chinese sovereignty over Tibet cannot be questioned, say Rigby and Barnett. 

Third, Tibetan Buddhism has been spreading rapidly among the dominant ethnic Han Chinese the past few decades. Rigby says some believe Tibetan Buddhism has more Han adherents than it has Tibetan believers today. Arpi says Tibet has also emerged as a symbol of natural beauty in modern China. "Twenty million Chinese will visit Tibet this year - a province with three million Tibetans," he said. But fascination with

Tibet does not mean support for Tibetan popular aspirations.

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