China to relocate Buddhist monastery in Tibet

Atsok Gon Dechen Choekhorling Monastery

Chinese authorities have begun relocating a 19th-century Buddhist monastery in Tibet that is expected to be submerged underwater after the completion of the world’s tallest 3D-printed hydropower dam, says a report.

The relocation of the Atsok Gon Dechen Choekhorling Monastery in Dragkar County began following an order from the Department of National Heritage in 2023, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on April 12.

The heritage department had declared that the artifacts and murals inside the monastery were of “no significant value or importance,”in response to a two-year-long campaign from the monks seeking a cancellation of the relocation order.


“Chinese authorities have announced to local residents that they will fund the costs of dismantling and reconstructing the monastery, and performing ceremonies and rituals at the relocated area,” Radio Free Asia reported citing local sources.

“While authorities have announced that the monks and residents of nearby villages will be relocated to Khokar Naglo, near Palkha township, no alternative housing has been built for the monks,” an unnamed source told Radio Free Asia .

The monastery founded in 1889 and named after its founder Atsok Choktrul Konchog Choedaris is in Hainan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai, China. More than 160 monks are housed in the monastery.

Earlier, China’s National Development and Reform Commission had issued the relocation order for the monastery and some 15,555 people — nearly all ethnic Tibetans — living in 24 towns and villages in three counties — Dragkar, Kawasumdo, and Mangra.

Dragkar County is in Tsolho, or Hainan in Chinese, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in the historic Amdo region of Tibet.

Reportedly, the monastery is expected to be submerged under water after the completion of the world’s tallest 3D-printed Yangqu hydropower dam.

The expansion work on the Yangqu hydropower station on the Yellow River in Qinghai province which started in 2022 is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

The power plant, once operational, is expected to generate about 5 billion kilowatts of power annually to Henan province. It is an expansion of the Yangqu Dam that was first built in 2010 and began operating in 2016 as a 1,200-megawatt hydropower station.

 

Atsok Gon Dechen Choekhorling Monastery
Atsok Gon Dechen Choekhorling Monastery

The first section of the dam is over 150 meters (about 500 feet) tall and is scheduled to become operational this year, and the entire project operational by 2025, Radio Free Asia reported.

Tibetans allege that the dam project symbolizes Beijing’s disregard for their culture, religion, and environment.

The residents believe that the place is sacred and has been made holier over 135 years of prayers and practice by generations in the same venue.

Reportedly, many of the murals and surrounding stupas will be destroyed as they cannot be physically moved.

In the video footage of a relocation ceremony being held earlier this month outside Atsok Monastery, the Chinese authorities were seen addressing residents from a stage flanked by trucks and cranes on both sides.

“The resettlement work could begin with the government’s approval and the support of the local population,” a local Chinese official was heard saying in a video, Radio Free Asia reported.

Other footage showed scores of residents praying and prostrating themselves on the road and in the fields before stupas near Atsok Monastery.

It was their way of “bidding farewell to this ancient monastery that has been their place of devotion for generations of Tibetans,” sources told Radio Free Asia.

The officials had also warned the head of the monastery and residents that they “will be punished for any disturbance caused,” an unnamed source said.

Tibetans have often accused Chinese companies and officials of improperly seizing land and disrupting their day-to-day lives, sometimes resulting in standoffs that are violently suppressed.

More than 1,000 monks and residents in Dege County of Sichuan’s Kardze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture were arrested in February this year following protests against the proposed construction of a dam in the Drichu River.

Hundreds of them were released later in March while several others including a monk and a village official remained in detention as the authorities accused them of being “ringleaders” of the protests, Radio Free Asia reported.

 

Monks attending Great Prayer Festival of Losar, the Tibetan New Year,
This picture taken on March 1, 2018 shows Tibetan Buddhist monks attending a ceremony for Monlam, otherwise known as the Great Prayer Festival of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, at the Rongwo Monastery, in Tongren County, Huangnan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. (Photo: AFP)

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