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China bans unauthorized reincarnations

ROLAND MAGUNIA/AFP/Getty Images China’s atheist authorities have decided to play God—they have banned Tibet’s Buddhist monks from reincarnating without permission. The State Administration for Religious Affairs said the new regulations on reincarnation are “an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation.” What the Chinese government is really trying to do is limit the power of the ...

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ROLAND MAGUNIA/AFP/Getty Images

China’s atheist authorities have decided to play God—they have banned Tibet’s Buddhist monks from reincarnating without permission. The State Administration for Religious Affairs said the new regulations on reincarnation are “an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation.”

What the Chinese government is really trying to do is limit the power of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and political leader who has been living in exile in India since 1959. The 72-year-old monk will not be allowed to reincarnate without approval from Chinese authorities. In practice, this means that when the Dalai Lama passes away, there could be two new dalai lamas: Beijing’s approved reincarnation and the one identified by Buddhist monks.

The Dalai Lama, however, has said he won’t be reborn in any place that’s under China’s control, which would make it rather difficult for Chinese authorities to locate his successor.

In all, this whole attempt to regulate reincarnation serves as a reminder: Even the most authoritarian governments in this earthly world face limits to their power. Too bad Chinese authorities don’t realize that.

Preeti Aroon was copy chief at Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2016 and was an FP assistant editor from 2007 to 2009. Twitter: @pjaroonFP

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