RELIGION

Chinese officials begin to dismantle Tibetan study site

  • In this Thursday, July 21, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Tibetan monks take smartphones pictures during the Kalachakra ritual in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Tibetan groups say Chinese officials have begun dismantling buildings at Larung Gar, one of the world's largest centers of Tibetan Buddhist learning. (Chogo/Xinhua via AP)

    In this Thursday, July 21, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Tibetan monks take smartphones pictures during the Kalachakra ritual in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Tibetan groups say Chinese officials have begun dismantling buildings at Larung Gar, one of the world's largest centers of Tibetan Buddhist learning. (Chogo/Xinhua via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Thursday, July 21, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese government-appointed 11th Panchen Lama, center, is accompanied by Tibetan monks attend the Kalachakra ritual in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Tibetan groups say Chinese officials have begun dismantling buildings at Larung Gar, one of the world's largest centers of Tibetan Buddhist learning. (Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua via AP)

    In this Thursday, July 21, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Gyaltsen Norbu, the Chinese government-appointed 11th Panchen Lama, center, is accompanied by Tibetan monks attend the Kalachakra ritual in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Tibetan groups say Chinese officials have begun dismantling buildings at Larung Gar, one of the world's largest centers of Tibetan Buddhist learning. (Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Thursday, July 21, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Tibetan monks take part in the Kalachakra ritual in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Tibetan groups say Chinese officials have begun dismantling buildings at Larung Gar, one of the world's largest centers of Tibetan Buddhist learning. (Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua via AP)

    In this Thursday, July 21, 2016 photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Tibetan monks take part in the Kalachakra ritual in Xigaze, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Tibetan groups say Chinese officials have begun dismantling buildings at Larung Gar, one of the world's largest centers of Tibetan Buddhist learning. (Purbu Zhaxi/Xinhua via AP)  (The Associated Press)

Tibetan groups say Chinese officials have begun dismantling buildings at Larung Gar, one of the world's largest centers of Tibetan Buddhist learning.

The London-based Free Tibet group says government workers began removing residential buildings and evicting residents Thursday morning. Several exile Tibetan groups say local authorities in Sichuan Province distributed an order in June to reduce the number of monks and nuns living there by half to 5,000, citing overcrowding concerns.

Founded in 1980, the mountainside academy attracts thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns for short- and long-term study in the religion's esoteric aspects. They typically stay in a sprawling mountainside settlement made of thousands of log cabins.

Government teams previously evicted thousands of monks in 2001, but the site has continued to swell significantly in the years since.