Campaign Against “Cults” Launched in Lhasa—But What Is a “Cult” in Tibet?

Tibet was never known as a hotbed of “xie jiao.” They may have achieved some success during the pandemic—or the CCP wants to label dissident Buddhists as “cultists.”

by Lopsang Gurung

The new regulation announced on Weibo.

On April 4, the Lhasa Public Security Bureau issued a strange document on repressing “xie jiao,” a term that really means “heterodox teachings” and was originally used by Taoists in the Middle Ages to slander Buddhism, but is today translated by the CCP in languages other than Mandarin as “cults.”

The document, whose translation we offer here below, would be perfectly predictable in other areas of China where fighting groups listed as “xie jiao” such as Falun Gong and The Church of Almighty God is a national security priority. The document incites Tibetans to inform on the activities of the “xie jiao” promising monetary rewards.

But why Lhasa? Tibet is not known as a hotbed of “xie jiao,” and the problem of the authorities watching religion there is mostly to control dissident Buddhists. There are two possible explanations. One is that, as some reported to “Bitter Winter,” the comparatively limited activities of Falun Gong and Christian-derivative groups listed as “xie jiao” in Tibet increased during the COVID-19 quarantine. The lockdown was particularly strict in Lhasa and very harsh on the local population. As it happened elsewhere, many turned to religion, including to its “illegal” varieties, with Falun Gong becoming especially popular for its offer of meditative practices boosting the immune system and protecting against the virus.

A more sinister explanation, however, is the expansion of the notions of xie jiao and “cults,” which courts and public security increasingly use to crack down on groups that are not included in the semi-official lists of the xie jiao. More than one informant reported to “Bitter Winter” that Tibetans have been harassed and detained for having been found in possession of portraits of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the 11th Panchen Lama, taken before he was kidnapped by the Chinese at age 6 in 1995. The CCP has installed Gyaincain Norbu as a false 11th Panchen Lama. “The police told me that those who honor and respect the real 11th Panchen Lama and reject the usurper Gyaincain Norbu are part of a cult,” a woman told “Bitter Winter.” Since the expression “Dalai Lama xie jiao” is also used, it is not impossible that Chinese authorities may also regard those who consider the Dalai Lama as the legitimate leader of Tibet as part of a “cult.”

Tibetan women display the “forbidden” portrait of the real 11th Panchen Lama. Source:

A translation of the Lhasa Public Security Bureau regulation follows:

“In order to severely crack down on and strictly prevent illegal and criminal activities of the xie jiao and create a harmonious and stable social environment, we are now collecting clues from the public about illegal and criminal activities involving xie jiao. The details are as follows:

1. Report content

(1) Clues involving illegal gatherings and activities of xie jiao.

(2) Forcing others to join a xie jiao or preventing others from quitting a xie jiao.

(3) Xie jiao create and spread superstitious heresies to deceive members or others into not accepting normal treatment, going on a hunger strike, self-harm (self-abuse), or committing suicide.

(4) Those who organize and use xie jiao to collect money; those who produce, print, operate, and transport xie jiao propaganda materials; those who use money as a tool to promote xie jiao.

(5) Promoting xie jiao to students in schools or other training institutions, or promoting xie jiao to minors through various study classes, summer (winter) camps, etc.

(6) Personnel involved in xie jiao organizations spread reactionary remarks, post, distribute, carry, privately hide, and produce clues to counter-propaganda materials such as xie jiao anti-propaganda slogans, books, leaflets, CDs, and various materials.

(7) Use communications and the Internet to promote xie jiao doctrines, produce and disseminate electronic pictures, books, publications, audio and video that promote xie jiao, and use social media such as QQ, WeChat, Douyin, and Weibo to promote xie jiao content.

(8) Using radio stations, illegally taking advantage of radio and television broadcasts, and LED electronic screens to promote xie jiao.

(9) Using e-commerce platforms to sell, buy, or mail xie jiao materials and items.

(10) Providing funds, venues, technology, tools, food, accommodation, transportation and other conveniences or assistance for xie jiao activities.

(11) Producing, mailing, and disseminating xie jiao pictures, flyers, slogans, newspapers, books, periodicals, audio tapes, video tapes, CDs, banners, logos, signs, flags, badges, clothing, utensils, souvenirs, and other items.

(12) Playing audio and video, shouting slogans, teaching, giving speeches, writing, spraying, posting, or hanging banners, slogans, or promoting xie jiao by throwing, distributing, or displaying materials.

(13) Going to regular religious venues to lure believers into xie jiao.

(14) Clues to other illegal and criminal activities of xie jiao.

2. Reporting method

(1) Dial the police hotline 110

(2) Call the police station in your jurisdiction or go to the police station to make a verbal report

(3) Report to the community police

3. Incentive measures

If the reporting clues are verified to be true by the public security organs, they will be rewarded as appropriate. The main award criteria are:

(1) If you discover clues about xie jiao activities, report to the police in a timely manner, and actively cooperate with the public security organs in carrying out investigation work, if found to be true, you will be rewarded with RMB 100 to RMB 1,000 depending on the circumstances.

(2) If a xie jiao member is found to be posting, distributing, or delivering xie jiao counter-propaganda and other illegal activities, and he or she is directly apprehended by the public security agency, to those who assist the public security agency in directly capturing the criminal suspect, a reward of RMB 1,000 to RMB 2,000 will be given, depending on the situation.

(3) Discover and report that training institutions, information consulting companies, etc., under the pretext of ‘spiritual training,’ ‘leadership training,’ ‘spiritual practice,’ etc., promote xie jiao, recruit people into illegal religion, and carry out mental control through teaching, speeches, etc., if the public security organ verifies that it is true, a reward of RMB 2,000 to RMB 5,000 will be given depending on the circumstances.

(4) Those who provide information about xie jiao members that have not been identified by relevant departments, or provide information about xie jiao members’ gathering places, and such members are caught on the spot by the public security organs (more than 3 people) will be rewarded depending on the level of the personnel (leaders, backbones, general personnel, etc.) from 10,000 yuan to 20,000 yuan.

(5) Provide clues to major cases or insider, early-warning, and actionable information in order to successfully detect xie-jiao-related cases (events) with significant impact or effectively prevent large-scale gatherings of xie-jiao-related personnel and travel to Beijing, provinces, and cities, etc. If the case is verified to be true by the public security organ, a reward of RMB 10,000 to RMB 30,000 will be given depending on the circumstances.

4. Report identification and non-reward situations

(1) No reward will be given if the report is made anonymously, is false, or the report information is unclear and cannot be verified.

(2) If one person reports multiple reports, only one will be rewarded after verification.

(3) Multiple people report the same content. After verification, the first whistleblower will be selected to be rewarded (subject to the registration time of the accepting unit).

(4) No reward will be given if a criminal suspect surrenders before being reported.

(5) If the public security organs, People’s Procuratorates, and People’s Courts discover uninvestigated criminal facts before the whistleblower during the case investigation, review, and trial, the whistleblower will not be rewarded.

(6) No reward will be given if the reported illegal and criminal acts have been already investigated and dealt with.

(7) These measures do not apply to staff of government agencies and administrative enterprises and institutions responsible for preventing and dealing with xie jiao.

5. Precautions

(1) The whistleblower must leave his or her real name and contact information. When reporting, pay attention to methods and personal safety, and properly retain information and evidence for subsequent verification and redemption of rewards.

(2) The reporting unit and staff will strictly keep the whistleblower’s information confidential and protect the whistleblower’s personal and property safety in accordance with the law.

(3) Within 30 days from the date of receiving the reward notification, the informant must go to the designated location in the reward notification with his or her valid ID to collect the reward. Failure to collect within the time limit will be deemed as automatic abandonment.

(4) The reporters should truthfully report the clues they know about illegal and criminal activities involving xie jiao. If, in the name of reporting, you make false accusations and frame others, fraudulently seek rewards, blackmail the person being reported, fabricate and disseminate false information, lie about reporting information, etc., the public security organs will investigate the legal responsibility of the perpetrator in accordance with the law.

Lhasa Public Security Bureau

April 8, 2024.