Self-Immolations Spreading Beyond Tibet?

Two Tibetans reportedly died after setting themselves on fire on the very same day — November 15 — that China’s Communist Party revealed its new generation of leaders. A dozen Tibetans self-immolated in the period leading up to the recent 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing in which power was transferred to Xi Jinping and six other members of the Politburo Standing Committee.

Since March of 2011, more than 60 Tibetans have set themselves on fire, in an unstinting effort to alert the world about their fight to end Chinese rule of Tibet.

Tibetans accuse China of religious repression and of causing their culture to die out, as increasing numbers of China’s majority Han population move into Tibetan areas. China has countered that residents of Chinese-controlled Tibetan regions enjoy religious freedom and have benefited from better living standards thanks to its economic investments.

Tibetans are also calling for the return of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader who has been exiled since 1959. China has accused the Dalai Lama of fomenting the self-immolations to attract attention to the cause of Tibetan separatism.

Are Self-Immolations Spreading Beyond Tibet?

23-year-old Dangzin Dolma and 18-year-old Kabum Gyal reportedly both self-immolated last Thursday in two separate incidents in different locations in the town of Tongren in China’s northwest Qinghai province, says the London-based Free Tibet organization. A heavy police presence had been noted in the area for several weeks.

The Telegraph reports that, also on November 15, a British man set himself on fire in the Nalanda monastery in southwestern France. Tonden, who was born David Alain in the U.K., had been in training at the monastery for the past five years and is the first Western Tibetan Buddhist monk to self-immolate. The monks and police are not sure if Tonden sought to make a political statement or set himself on fire because he was “psychologically fragile.” French authorities said that he had struggled “during his training … [with] coming to terms with all the obligations and vows that his position demands.” The Buddhist monks must follow precepts that “urge against harming living beings, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.”

The Nasanda monastery’s director, the venerable Losang Tendar, said that Tonden had offered no sign that he would take his own life and did not leave a note. “We have of course followed the events in Tibet, but until now it was simply inconceivable that it would happen here in the West,” he said to the Telegraph.

Tibetans living in exile in India have also been staging protests to demand freedom from China. Advocates tell the Telegraph that mounting frustration with Chinese rule among Buddhists could spill over into the West. Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet says that “I actually befriended someone on Facebook recently who was threatening to self-immolate to draw international attention to what is going on.”

On November 16, the day after the official changeover of power in Beijing, Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay (the political leader for Tibetan exiles) called for increased international support in Tibet’s struggle to gain freedom from China. As he said to a meeting in Dhamsala, the headquarters of the Dalai Lama, to 40 supporting organizations:

“Tibet is a litmus test for China and the world. By supporting Tibet, the international community will clearly show what they stand for.”

“By not supporting us in our non-violent struggle, the world will send a wrong message to all oppressed people of the world.”

Last summer, when my husband (a history and religion professor in New York) mentioned to a student from China that the Dalai Lama is indeed alive, the young man laughed nervously. Clearly he had been told something very different about the real history of his country and of Tibet.

As speculation continues about what reforms China’s new leaders may or may not make, we need to continue to support Tibet’s fight for freedom and to preserve its religion and unique culture.

Related Care2 Coverage

Massively Important Election in China Goes On Behind Closed Doors

Young Tibetan Monk Self-Immolates in Protest

Tibetan Writer Calls for End to Self-Immolations

Photo by SFTHQ


Will Rogers
Will Rogers5 years ago

Mark d. Pamela w. just because you don't agree with me, doesn't mean you have to insult me or throw accusations at me, saying I am a paid shill' for the Chinese government. I like the working classes, the common people, not royalty or the churches. Of which the DL is. The question I want you both to answer is; When was slavery outlawed in Tibet? And. Did the DL have slaves? Was it better for the normal common folk under his reign, or not?
And Pamela w. yes I am trying to be controversial, that may freak you out, but there's a lot of dumb people in the world that believes the first thing they read, and then don't cross check it. And yes I smoke weed, I also drink, take ecstasy and magic mushrooms, you could call me a hedonist...thank you for the compliment. I am also anti guns, war and violence to animals and others. Anti religion and see abortion as just another form of contraception. I hate the queen, the pope, mullahs, Imans and rabbis. And I will never revere some upper class monk! No matter how much he smiles. But if insulting me turns you on, and reasoned discussion turns you off, then so be it.

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago

I hope not . . . . . .

kate foley
kate foley5 years ago

My point being, we will never have generations without the Dalai Lama. You must restrain yourself from making negative predictions. We all have the power to do something good, something profound. Wake up to the world we live in, take responsibility and ask for change.

kate foley
kate foley5 years ago

America and other big power countries aren't helping in the way they should be simply because the main reason a country goes to war is money and greed, Tibet is a perfect example of this. Unfortunately, unlike the middle east, there is not value, no oil for big countries to go in and help.
Yes I agree that setting ones' self on fire should not be tried at home, never would I advise it, but don't you understand that the Tibetans are a Buddhist nation, they are people of peace and I am sure they think that setting ones' self on fire much more horrific than any of you who write that "it's not the right thing to do" or "it's not a solution" so understand how desperate these people are. If you haven't read any of The Dalai Lama's autobiographies then I suggest you do.
Marilyn L. they accomplish nothing by setting themselves on fire only if we don't listen. it is. It is a direct communication and a plea for help. Can't you hear it? They are asking with their lives. It is us who can indeed accomplish something, we have power. We have the power of our thoughts, the power of our words, and the power of our intentions. Their intention was to get our attention and they have succeeded to some. They are asking you to listen, and they are asking you to help, they are pleading with you to be brave.
Marg H and Travis W; the life of the Dalai Lama never ends, obviously. This is the 14th Dalai Lama and there will be another and another as ones' true life is endless. My point being, we wil

Beth M.
Beth M5 years ago

It is so sad that Tibetans have to resort to killing themselves to try to get the world's attention. Why isn't America and other free countries doing more to help them?

Trish K.
Trish K5 years ago

China will never leave Tibet and they are going after Japan next.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago

I don't understand Monks who do this. Those that have gone before them and set themselves on fire accomplished absolutely nothing. Senseless act.

Penny C.
penny C5 years ago

They should be free from China.

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

thanks for the info

Gina Narvaez
Gina Narvaez5 years ago

Well thanks (: