Tibetan Buddhist Monks Set Themselves on Fire to Protest Chinese Oppression

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It is not a cause the leftist ‘Occupy Wall Street’ crowd would ever espouse, since its life-or-death issues would shame theirs and show where true evil and oppression resides.

Largely ignored by the Western media, nine Tibetan Buddhist monks and one nun have attempted suicide by self-immolation since last March in China’s eastern Sichuan province, a hotbed of unrest against perceived Chinese government oppression. Eastern Sichuan is largely inhabited by ethnic Tibetans and was once historically part of Tibet.

It is unknown how many of the ten perished in their suicide attempts, since Chinese authorities never say whether a monk survived. But it is believed five have died from their injuries, the nun, Tengzin Wangmo, 20, being one of them. The latest attempted self-immolation, reported by the Free Tibet group, occurred only last week outside a monastery in Ganzi in Sichuan, when a monk set himself alight after dousing himself with an accelerant. It is also not known whether he survived.

“The unrest in Tibet is escalating and widening,” said Stephanie Brigden of Free Tibet. “The number and frequency of self-immolations is unprecedented.”

The latest fatality, whose name is unknown, is the eighth Buddhist monk to attempt suicide by fire in the past two months. This increase in self-immolation numbers indicates the Tibetans’ level of desperation and despair concerning the survival of their people, culture and religion, which they see threatened by Han Chinese immigration and repressive government measures. Beijing gained control of Tibet, which is now labelled an autonomous region, after it successfully invaded its neighbour in 1950.

Self-immolations, like those occurring in Tibet, are a sign of a people reaching the end of its tether. It is the only weapon the powerless and brutalised Tibetans feel they have left that could make a difference against a monstrous dictatorship that has already murdered 70 million people. The employment of this ultimate measure is also an indication that Tibetans believe their situation and conditions are becoming so hopeless, they would rather perish than continue living in their present state.

Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, self-immolations also occurred in European communist countries to protest the unbearable and horrific results of decades of socialism. A self-immolation also triggered the ‘Arab Spring’ when a man set himself alight in Tunisia to protest bureaucratic corruption. While it is doubtful whether the recent self-immolations of Buddhist spirituals will lead to such regime-changing events, especially in the face of continued, massive Chinese police oppression, Brigden believes they are sparking discontent.

“The acts of self-immolation are not taking place in isolation, protests have been reported in the surrounding region and calls for wider protests are growing,” she said.

The center of the recent Tibetan suicide protests, and of anti-Beijing sentiment in general, is the Kirti monastery in eastern Sichuan. The majority of monks involved in the fiery suicide attempts this year were from Kirti, the first one taking place last March. The monk was 16-years-old. Two other Kirti monks, accused of assisting with the March attempt, were both given long jail terms.

Before the self-immolations, the Kirti monastery had a population of 2,500 monks; that has now dwindled to 600 due to arrests, police persecution and “brutal” security raids.” With police now stationed inside the monastery itself, the religious institution is reported to have been turned into “a virtual prison.” Several hundred monks may also have been sent away for “patriotic re-education.”

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  • ten20

    This author's article is an unfortunate contribution to the political importance of the immolations, as well as their ethical implications. There is no need to paint the immolations in Tibet as an exclusive, morally superior example to other protests such as the current Occupy movement. There is no singular, exceptional oppression, it exists in many forms.

    A particularly significant fact the writer leaves out is that the Vietnamese monks who self-immolated in the 60s, in protesting against South Vietnam's Diem regime, were protesting against a severely anti-Communist regime that was put in place by the United States — it was not simply a matter of Buddhist vs Catholic.

    Oppression may come in the guise of communism or capitalism, theocracy or democracy. While its form may at first be determined by the system it is born out of, eventually it looks like all other oppression — to quote a letter written by Vietnamese monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.-

    I believe with all my heart that the monks who burned themselves did not aim at the death of the oppressors but only at a change in their policy. Their enemies are not man. They are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred and discrimination which lie within the heart of man. I also believe with all my being that the struggle for equality and freedom you lead in Birmingham, Alabama… is not aimed at the whites but only at intolerance, hatred and discrimination. These are real enemies of man — not man himself. In our unfortunate father land we are trying to yield desperately: do not kill man, even in man's name. Please kill the real enemies of man which are present everywhere, in our very hearts and minds.

    (The entire letter is available here: http://www.aavw.org/special_features/letters_thic

  • PatriotX

    I know little about Tibet or it’s issues with China but burning yourself to death is not the answer. It doesn’t earn you respect it earns you an excruciatingly painful death.

    • james

      Tibetans burning themself, not to earn you respect. They are in a situation where they have nothing more to lose. They're fighting for unjustice, inhuman, and atrocity by the CCP.

    • mcd

      They're burning themselves to turn the attention of the world towards their issue: Tibetan oppression by the Chinese.

  • Wong

    Tibetan will die of hunger if not for china's support.

    • BS77

      Tibet was doing fine before China invaded it, destroyed their farms, fields, towns, monasteries; sent millions fleeing across the Himalayas to escape Chinese prisons and slave work …..Tibet was poor but not starving…China has attempted to destroy the Tibetan BUddhist culture. China has ruined Lhasa and turned TIbet into a Chinese Communist slave zone.

    • james

      Millions of Chinese people will starve to death without Tibet. China did nothing to Tibet and Tibetans except, rape, murder, and torture…..

  • Debanjan Banerjee

    I can say that the Tibetans have generally done well because of Chinese supervision. Let us not forget that during the Dalai Lama times , Tibettan children's body parts were offered during the inaugural ceremony of the Dalai Lamas'.

    The economic inequality was the main thing that needed Chinese supervision of Tibbetan affairs. I can say that in many ways Chinese supervision of Tibbet can be compared with the benevolent aspects of British rule in India.

    Before the Chinese there were no direct railway network in Tibbet now Tibbet boasts a modern railway system from Beijing to Lhasa. There are signs of affluence in Tibbet which any outsider can observe.

    The distrubances that you see in Tibbet are all caused by anti-modernization religious zealots who hate any form of progress or induistry. These people deserve to be treated in the same way that the American founders dealt with the native American tribes.

    I hope all the people will agree with me in the forum.

    • tanstaafl

      "live free or die"

    • tendol

      firstly its TIBET! and if china really had done good by invading tibet, bringing the modernization in tibet then why are tibetans burning themselves? we live in present, our present is devastating enough to even think about the future of this cruel world. monks self-immolate themselves because their reason for living is taken away from them. talk abt modernization in a country where there is no freedom, no justice, no humanity! 1000s of tibetans detained, noone knows abt their whereabouts. in a country where they are deprived of these human rights, id rather have my freedom to LIVE then railroads.

    • Kristen

      Debanjan Banerjee,
      Excuse me?!? You’re for genocide of other human beings simply because they’re different?? Your statement about the Native-American tribes is offensive and ignorant beyond words. Millions of them were slaughtered because of greed.

      The Chinese were wrong to invade Tibet, a land where people lived in peace and bothered no one. Such arrogance is astonishing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mozan.rock Wajid Ahmed

    I Don,t think this man is Tibetan.

  • Guido

    Devastatingly uninformed essay.

  • naerulinnud

    That sounds just like my high school. Years later, after zero soul searching or self reflection, teachers still marvel how it was possible for me to get D's and F's while learning about how evil America is (history) and how much fun they had in India (sociology/geography) yett score over 95 percent on all the standardized tests. (Guest lectures included a known drug addict explaining how to absorb information through osmosis while staring at a page). There is nothing I can do about being an airhead, even by California standards, but thanks to this permanent vaccination, at least I can never be a leftist one. http://www.koduleheoptimeerimine.ee/

  • Chris

    The attempts to discredit "leftists" and Occupy Wall Street protesters in an article about self-immolation of Tibetan monks are as unnecessary as they are uninformed.

  • Pax

    It is sick that people are using oppression and death to make a point about the hypocrisy of American protestors. If you are upset about the "greater evil and worse conditions" of the Tibetan people, then do something about it instead of trying to use it to attack the actions of your political opponents.

  • http://frontpagemag.com/2011/stephenbrown/tibetan-buddhist-monks-set-themselves-on-fire-to-protest-chinese-oppression/ Cyndi Nusbaum

    Tibetans feel forgotten. They have been denied their culture, their spiritual practice, their land, their dignity & this has all been by the hands & minds, of the Chinese dictators & their goon squads, of the Chinese Army oppressors. If you don’t understand Buddhism or cultural oppression for decades, you should still understand human rights . Dictators & Oppressors do not honor human rights. Occupy is not leftists, it is pro-humanity and anti-oppression. It’s life & death when the homeless are starving, veterans are committing suicide & those in need, in the wake of a Superstorm. OWS is a candle in the dark, for the voices of that are marginalized or have fell silent. If folks don’t catch themselves on fire, it’s because they must have hope, because someone cares. In Tibet drastic measures are a call for help, they have lost hope. Feel Forgotten. This has gone on far too long. Only exposure of the darkness, can bring the truth to light.

  • jaelynn

    I wanted to read this article, until the first sentence that implied the “Occupy Wall Street” protest was referred to as being leftists. No, they were the people that understand that the banks have ripped off the whole country! People who’s lived have forever been altered by crooks on Wall Street.