Why are Tibetans burning In Tibet and starving in New York?

China is on high alert in Tibet every March due to sensitive political anniversaries. Tibetans commemorate the March 1959 uprising … Continued

China is on high alert in Tibet every March due to sensitive political anniversaries. Tibetans commemorate the March 1959 uprising against Chinese rule and the flight into exile of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Beijing annually deploys a massive military force to discourage Tibetans from demonstrating any form of dissent, peaceful or otherwise.

2012 has been different.

The entire Tibetan region has been effectively under martial law for months as China rolls tanks and stations paramilitary throughout the region.

Tibetans are burning themselves to death in protest of China’s iron grip on their homeland.

Ashwini Bhatia

AP

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama wears a ceremonial yellow hat as he gives a religious talk on the 15th day of the Tibetan New Year in Dharmsala, India, Thursday, March 8, 2012. The Dalai Lama has lived in Dharmsala in northern India since fleeing Tibet after a failed 1959 uprising against Beijing’s rule.

These fiery protests are because Tibetans feel their identity, language, and religious faith is under assault by the Chinese government.

The method of self-immolations has been essentially the same. Dousing themselves in gasoline, Tibetans set themselves alight standing in town squares and in front of Chinese government buildings. As they become a human torch, they shout, ‘’Return the Dalai Lama to Tibet,’’ ‘’Freedom in Tibet,’’ and ‘’We want human rights.” Most have succumbed to a gruesome death; others have been taken away by Chinese security personal.

Self-immolations as a form of protest had not occurred in Tibet until two and a half years ago. Since then, thirty Tibetans, mostly monks and nuns, have set themselves on fire.

These extreme forms of protests are a response to China’s extreme repression of Tibetans. For a Mahayanist Buddhist perspective one can examine a letter written over fifty years ago by Thich Nhat Hahn, a leading Buddhist monk from Vietnam, to Martin Luther King, Jr. explaining the self-immolations by Vietnamese monks in 1963. These searing images haunted the world, and Nhat Hahn’s words offer insight into the mind of the protestor.

“The Vietnamese monk, by burning himself, says with all his strength and determination that he can endure the greatest of suffering to protect his people. What he really aims at is the expression of his will and determination, not death. To express will by burning oneself, therefore, is not to commit an act of destruction but to perform an act of construction, that is to suffer and to die for the sake of one’s people.”

The self-immolations have a pattern. They have occurred where China has spent the most money on security, which is attempting to strangle Tibetan nationalism, and where China is implementing stringent patriotic re-education in monasteries. This “education” promotes loyalty to the Chinese party-state and vilifies the Tibetans’ leader, the Dalai Lama, as nothing other than a terrorist in a monk’s saffron robe. In other words, where Tibetans have been pushed to the edge, some have decided to jump into fire.

Graphic video smuggled out of Tibet and China has shown policemen standing over still smoking monks and nuns with their skin charred black, still alive, waiting to make arrests. In two cases, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, police have reportedly beaten, and even shot, monks after extinguishing the flames.

FREDERIC J. BROWN

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Tibetans and supporters of a “Free Tibet” hold placards while marching through downtown Los Angeles on March 10, 2012 in California, joining thousands of Tibetans and Tibet supporters worldwide taking to the streets to mark the anniversary of Tibet’s failed revolt against Chinese rule. In the past year, more than 20 Tibetans, most of them monks, have set themselves ablaze to protest Beijing’s rule, sparking international condemnation of what critics call religious and cultural repression.

China’s Foreign Ministry has condemned the self-immolations and accused the Dalai Lama and Tibet support groups in the West of encouraging them. Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu has called such alleged support “violence and terrorism in disguise.”

The Dalai Lama has said China’s “ruthless policy” in Tibet is driving Tibetan monks and nuns to such extremes measures.

The Tibetan government-in-exile in India has described the self-immolations as tragic, and called for pressure from the international community on Beijing to open a dialogue on its policies in Tibetan regions of China.

Demonstrating solidarity with the Tibetans in Tibet, three Tibetans in the U.S.began a hunger strike on February 22 outside the United Nations headquarters in New York asking for the UN to send a fact finding mission to Tibet, among other demands.

After two weeks, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern for the health of the hunger strikers, but said nothing of the situation in Tibet. A few days earlier, Assistant Secretary General Ivan Simonovic met with the three hunger strikers who told him they want “concrete action” by the Chinese authorities to ease the ongoing crackdown in Tibet before they would consider ending their hunger strike. Mr. Simonovic said he would convey the group’s concerns to Geneva.

This Monday, day 27 of the hunger strike, the New York Police Department removed one the eldest of the protesters, Dorjee Gyalpo, and admitted him to a hospital. Gyalpo pleaded unsuccessfully with the police to allow him to continue his hunger strike until the UN responded.

As Shingza Rinpoche and Yeshi Tenzing, the two remaining hunger strikers in New York, approach nearly a month with no food, the tepid UN response has not convinced them to stop their protest.

Tibetans who are lighting themselves on fire, and the few Tibetans refugees who are willing to starve themselves to death in front of the UN, are under no illusions that international pressure will succeed. Yet, they continue.

Sobha Rinpoche, an esteemed Tibetan teachers who died on January 8, 2012 after drinking gasoline and self-immolating in eastern Tibet, left an audio testament in which captures the essence of the latest protests in Tibet, and in New York.

“I am giving away my body as an offering of light to chase away the darkness, to free all beings from suffering.”


Matteo Pistono

is a writer, practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, and author of “In the Shadow of the Buddha: Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet.”

  • dobermantmacleod

    I am going to express a minority opinion: I think those Tibetians are stupid and retro to want the religious dictatorship they suffered under when the Dali Lama was in charge. The reason they are persecuted is that they are counter-revolutionary to the legal established government of China – possible the richest and most diverse nation in the 21st century. Let them practice their religion and language in private behind closed doors – what they are protesting for is to break apart from China – just like Taiwanese they are “splittists.”

    Ask yourself how the US would react to states in the South trying to break away for the union again. But of course, the US is different, huh? I am so sick of the US having one set of rules for itself and another for our friends, and then quite another for it’s perceieved enemies. Since China is a “enemy,” we support counter-revolutionarys splitting it up and going back to a primative and back to the religious dictatorship it had. How about all the Chinese that have moved there since? What hypocrites the US is composed of.

  • dobermantmacleod

    BTW, I haven’t seen ONE article published in the US detailing in CRITICAL DETAIL what Tibet was like before the Hans invaded. I’ve seen a lot very sympathetic to the “splittists” and the Dali Lama, but none showing their lack of democracy, their treatment of women, their religious othodoxy and what happened when people wanted to behave secular, and a lot of other very unattractive aspects of rule under the Dali Lama. Yeah, it was paradise, and those mean Chinese came and made all those Thbetians slaves, huh?

    I’ve also seen a lot of media on how harsh the crackdowns are that the Chinese government conducts, but none about those “non-violent” Tibetians revolting violently. What do you think a government does when a citizenry revolts? Especially scores of years ago. How did the US treat the South when it tried to remove itself for the union? How did the federal government treat the South when it won and occupied the South and forced them to adopt another culture’s values?

    What a shame the new media is so bias concerning calls for Tibetian independence. People don’t get a neutral view point on the whole matter. All you hear is Tibetians burning themselves to death and going on hunger strikes trying to reverse and go back to their religious dictatorship and gain independence. Do you really think they are better off burned alive at their own hand than living under Chinese rule??

    The sooner they accept the inevitable – that they are part of China – the sooner things can normalize. Instead, agitators paint an idealistic picture of how things were under the Dali Lama (they wouldn’t even build foundations for buildings because worms had more rights than people).

  • godfree

    For centuries Tibet’s monasteries were the largest slave owners in the country and an integral part of the ruling elite. An elite which practiced not only slavery, but extreme forms of torture.
    With the rise of literacy in contemporary Tibet, and the vastly improved nutrition and longevity that Tibetans now enjoy, is it possible that the self-immolations have a slightly different aim to the one suggested in this article?
    These suicides are an attempt to reassert the influence of the elite in a society which is modernizing, and thus moving away from, a sectarian and superstition-based regime. After all, the Dalai Lama’s sect only represents a portion of Tibet’s Buddhists, which are themselves only a fraction of the entire Tibetan population.

  • persiflage

    We see the usual Chinese apologists have responded in the usual way just below……

    Globally speaking, China is the last major imperialist regime. If the Tibetans were only as well armed as the Taiwanese……………this would have been a different story.

  • zhuubaajie

    Yes, the Chicoms really screwed up in the 50 years of management of Tibet. If you look at the photographs of Tibetan monasteries, they commonly show young children (couldn’t have been more than 7 o 8) in red religious garb of sangha. That is a big part of the problem.

    It is still not too late – Beijing should ban religious brainwashi­­ng of minors. No children (under the age of 18) should be allowed to be brainwashe­­d in ANY religious school or institutio­­n.

    Religion is between a Man and his God or gods. Only mature, responsibl­­e human beings can have true freedom of religion and the related freedoms to choose what to believe, or not to believe. It is a crime on humanity to allow tender receptive minds (younger than 18) to be subject to any form of brainwashi­­ng. Just as young kids should be banned from Madrasas, so should they be banned from joining the order in any Buddhist monasterie­­s before the age of 18. Children should spend full time studying academic subjects and playing computer games and sports, not only reciting scriptures of any kind.

    Historical­ly, I do agree that Beijing truly slipped up on Tibetan policy. If it had learned from the more advanced nations, such as the Brits and the Americans on what to do with natives, Tibet would not still be 95% native speaking and writing the Tibetan script. There’d be total assimilati­­on, and no problem at all.

    (OK, maybe a native ran casino or three.)

  • zhuubaajie

    Tibet is part of China. At the end of the day, it is the citizens of the nation that have to learn to “get along” with national policies. 3 million cannot dictate to 1.34 billion.

    No nation is going to give up 1/3rd of its territory (that is what the Dalai 14 claims). You can wet dream all life long (what a sad life that is), and China will still continue to progress. The only beneficial outcome is assimilation. In retrospect, Westerners were certainly a lot more resolute (if despicable) in their handling of natives. The Chinese were simply no match in the “efficacy” in such dealings, and ends up with a Tibet region that is still about 90% natives.

    Inexcusable is the fact that there was (and is) bilingual education. If 50 years ago the decisions were made to: (a) have uniform education standards for the entire nation, and (b) prohibit the evil cult practice of religious brainwashing of children (below age of 18), then today the Tibet region would be a lot more stable, as the natives would be much the same as any other Chinese. That is how all advanced nations did it. Chicoms missed the boat for the last half century, but it is not too late to catch up.

  • zhuubaajie

    The Dalai 14 is trying singlehandedly to reverse the clearly indicative trend, by praising the immolators.

    What trend? After 300 years of local administration under his 14 incarnations, Tibet in 1950 had a life expectancy at birth of 35.6 years. By 2010, the number is 67 years, higher than in Indian Dharamsala.

    And there are other trends just as impressive.

    In 1951, there were only three small, shabby government-run institutions of Tibetan medicine and a small number of private clinics, with less than 100 medical workers altogether. By the end of 2010 there were 1,352 medical institutions of all types and at all levels in Tibet, with 8,838 hospital beds and 9,983 medical workers.

    Population in Tibet tripled to 3 million since 1951, with ethnic Tibetans accounting for 90.48 percent, according to China’s sixth national census.

    The enrollment rate for school-age children was less than 2 percent and illiteracy rate was as high as 95 percent among the young and the middle-aged in 1951. Sixty years later, the enrollment rate for primary school-age children of the Tibetan ethnic group has reached 99.2 percent and the illiteracy rate among the young and the middle-aged has fallen to 1.2 percent, and most of the students are bilingual (both Mandarin and Tibetan native script). [Contrast: WHAT native languages are preserved and promoted in America?]

    Most of the Tibetan natives today still practice Tibetan Buddhism, of which the Dalai led Gelug sect is a small part thereof. [Contrast: WHAT is the dominant religion amongst American natives? Christianity hands down.]

    I rather choose to believe scientific comparisons, than demagogic nonsense.

  • nvlaearthlinknet

    We see the usual cadre of propaganda mongers, supporting their bosses, the fear mongers. Wu-mao Monkeys reporting to the Organ Grinders. No understanding of a culture different than their own. If you don’t understand it, kill it.
    Despite all the statistics posted above Chinese policy is responsible for the murder and torture of Tibetans, the marginalization of Tibetans in their own country and the quick elimination of the Tibetan culture.
    The Tibetans pose no threat to China. Does anyone really think that 500,000 unarmed Tibetan males could overcome the Chinese military? China could easily and peacefully have all the land, all the mineral rights, the rights to all the rivers coming out of Tibet that feed all the rest of Asia if they would simply let the Tibetans have their culture. Instead China’s aim is to eliminate them. Who’s next?

  • ElpenorDignam

    I’d rather live until 36 in freedom than 100 years under Chinese oppression – assimilate yourself commie!!

  • alexinUS

    1- Have any of you, who are paid by the Chinese government, even tried to understand what Tibetans think and believe?
    You talk about Tibet before China’s occupation, but you do not even know it’s history. You probably don’t even know your own “real” history. China has been occupied by Tibet.
    Majority of the population in China does not truly believe in your government’s propaganda anymore.
    2- Why has the media taken this long to report on the self immolations, the protests, and the hunger strikes?

  • nvlaearthlinknet

    Sorry my friend. You are misinformed by your bosses. Teaching the Tibetan language in schools has been outlawed. This is widely known. Smart move for you guys. Eliminate the language, eliminate the culture. Despite Beijing’s public policy of supporting the Tibetan culture, in reality we see the opposite.
    And for once don’t respond by saying it’s okay for China to do this since the US did it to their own indians. What the US did doesn’t make it right for China to do. Learn from mistakes. The Tibetan problem is an easy fix. YOur post is supporting torture and murder. You are losing face.

  • nvlaearthlinknet

    Dear Doberman, in response to your response to your own post 3/21 1:25 pm:
    Paragraph 1,There were no uprisings in Tibet before the Han and its military takeover occurred. This would indicate that the people were not unhappy – and although a few will always be unhappy under any circumstances, there was never a people’s uprising. The treatment of women in Tibet by the Chinese is now, in some cases, forced sterilization. Is that better for the Tibetans? Also the idea of slaves is one propagated by the Chinese as a flimsy excuse for “liberating” the Tibetans. How liberated do they feel now? If China was so altruistic in their motives, why would they engage in torture?
    P2: The fact is that the Chinese military has been extremely harsh and does not tolerate even peaceful demonstration. How violent can the Tibetans be? They have no weapons against a military that not only outnumbers them a thousand to one, but the Chinese are equipped with tanks, automatic weapons, aircraft, spiked clubs, ropes for dragging monks through the streets by their necks, electric cattle prods and various other torture devices employed when the monks and nuns do not enthusiastically renounce their religion during the re-education process. I’d say they were better off before.
    P3: How can the media be biased or unbiased when they are not allowed into the area? If Chinese policy is good for the Tibetans why can’t we see what’s going on? Why are no reporters allowed in? As for your last sentence, “Do you really think they are better off burned alive at their own hand than living under Chinese rule??”, I would say that monks, who abhor suicide or the taking of any life, nuns, nomads, farmers and lay Tibetans would agree that their life was far happier before the invasion. Chinese “strike hard” policy is what is causing the self-immolations.
    It seems most Chinese will never understand the importance of the Tibetan culture and what it has to offer to the world. Most Han and most people in the world

  • vk1537

    Tibetans were self sufficient (not burning and not starving) before china’s invasion of Tibet. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japanese surrender, Mao-dze-dung’s communist red china military got massive stashes of Japanese arms. Did they use them against Japan? NO!! They used them to attack Tibet and Tibetans. Japanese atrocities committed against the chinese was just an educational process used by communist red china military against Tibet and Tibetans. In addition, they flooded Tibet with millions of chinese workers, making Tibetans minorities within their own country (Japan didn’t do this in conquered territories). South china tiger has been annihilated- its body parts were used in chinese medicine. Next – communist red china moved to South of china to endanger the Tibetans who are the next target. Tibet’s gold, minerals, land, timber, rivers and magnificent Himalayas have been raided and are being sucked out by china. What Mao-dze-dung’s successors of communist red china are saying regarding ownership of Tibet is similar to what communist USSR leaders and the Tsars said about Turkestan, Armenia, Georgia etc (formerly of USSR) being under control of historic Russia. Russia backed off and freed them. The same should be done by china for Tibet (but will they??). Free Tibet now!!

  • nvlaearthlinknet

    Dear Doberman, in reply to your response to your own post 3/21 1:25 pm:
    Paragraph 1,There were no uprisings in Tibet before the Han and its military takeover occurred. This would indicate that the people were not unhappy – and although a few will always be unhappy under any circumstances, there was never a people’s uprising. The treatment of women in Tibet by the Chinese is now, in some cases, forced sterilization. Is that better for the Tibetans? Also the idea of slaves is one propagated by the Chinese as a flimsy excuse for “liberating” the Tibetans. How liberated do they feel now? If China was so altruistic in their motives, why would they engage in torture?
    P2: The fact is that the Chinese military has been extremely harsh and does not tolerate even peaceful demonstration. How violent can the Tibetans be? They have no weapons against a military that not only outnumbers them a thousand to one, but the Chinese are equipped with tanks, automatic weapons, aircraft, spiked clubs, ropes for dragging monks through the streets by their necks, electric cattle prods and various other torture devices employed when the monks and nuns do not enthusiastically renounce their religion during the re-education process. I’d say they were better off before.
    P3: How can the media be biased or unbiased when they are not allowed into the area? If Chinese policy is good for the Tibetans why can’t we see what’s going on? Why are no reporters allowed in? As for your last sentence, “Do you really think they are better off burned alive at their own hand than living under Chinese rule??”, I would say that monks, who abhor suicide or the taking of any life, nuns, nomads, farmers and lay Tibetans would agree that their life was far happier before the invasion. Chinese “strike hard” policy is what is causing the self-immolations.
    It seems most Chinese will never understand the importance of the Tibetan culture and what it has to offer to the world. Most Han and most people in the world fo

  • zhuubaajie

    How can it be a mistake? America is the gold standard, and America is right in everything. Why else are you guys sitting on your fat tushes and wagging fingers at China and the Chinese, as if you have the high horse to sit on?

    IF the Chicoms are really taking out Tibetan native language teaching (I seriously doubt it), it is high time for them to do it – if they had done it 50 years ago, things would have been a lot calmer.

    Again be practical. Beijing did not put in a high speed rail line and 60 km of roads in Tibet, just to give it up. It is a national resource and the property of all Chinese, not just that of a few natives.

  • zhuubaajie

    @alexinUS:

    To be blunt, why SHOULD any Chinese care what a bunch of extremists think? The REAL Tibetan natives are living and thriving as any other Chinese in China, trying to do their best and be productive, contributing to society and building a better tomorrow.

    There is work to do and money to make and house to buy and kids to raise (yes the natives are allowed multiple children, while the Hans can have only one in the cities). Who cares about this foreign agitated extremism?

  • ltlee1

    Most people in the West would assume Tibetans burning In Tibet and starving in New York for the same cause. This assumption may not be true. It is obvious that Tibetan in New York starve themselves for political reason, a free Tibet. How about those in Tibet? Religious sect struggle is a reality among Tibetans Buddhists as elsewhere. Among the Gelugpa sect, there was deep schism between the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama since 1950. The Dalai Lama at first did not recognize the 10th Panchen Lama and accorded him the traditional status and power. Recognizing the 10the Panchen Lama was a central issue during the negotiation between Tibet and China more than 60 years ago. The schism was made worse when the Dalai Lama banned the worship of Dorje Shugden who was the teacher of the first Panchen Lama. If the Dalai Lama cannot return to China and manage his reincarnation, his lineage, if chooses to ban the Dorje Shugden could lost big after his death. I am not saying religious sect struggle is the only factor. However, the urgency, in the form of self-immolation by mostly monks, is indicative of religious struggle. Elsewhere, monks are usually the last group to kill themselves in protest. After all, their main concern is the other world and not this world. But for their own religion or sect, they are more willing to kill and to be killed. The same applied to the Dalai Lama’s sect and those who are still worshipping the banned Dorju Shugden.

  • Polarwolf999

    @chinese and china supporters

    1. Tibet was never ever a part of China: Tibet was invaded by the Mongols in 13th century, and became a part of the Mongolian Yuan dynasty. While Tibetans enjoyed a special relationship as spiritual teachers with the Mongols (Mongolians are now Tibetan Buddhists), the Chinese were third and fourth class slaves in the official social hierarchy of the Mongolian Yuan dynasty. Tibet was incorporated again into the Manchu (Tungusic people who are related to Koreans) Qing dynasty in 16th century, and the Manchu Qing collapsed in 1911. Manchus also Tibetan Buddhists and had a special relation with Tibet in constrast to the Chinese who were forbidden to travel and settle in Mongolia, Tibet, and Manchuria! Therefore, the Chinese claim that Tibet was a part of China since Mongolian Yuan dynasty and Manchu Qing dynasty, is like Britain is a part of India or Hong Kong because India or Hong Kong were British colonies!

    Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang were INVADED BY CHINA in 1949-1950s.

    2. The very fact that whites did terrible things to American Indians is the EXACT reason why the entire humanity should fight for freedom in Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang (East Turkestan) SO THAT THESE TERRIBLE THINGS ARE NOT REPEATED! This is the reason to fight for freedom and liberty of Tibetan, Inner Mongolians, and Uighur people’s freedom.

    3. In 1949 when the Communists took over China, China had her own millions of serfs-slaves who were owned by the Chinese landlords. In this sense, there was no difference between Tibet and China. Therefore, the liberation of slaves of both Chinese and Tibetan DOES NOT PROVIDE THE REASON FOR INVASION!

    4. Independent Tibet, Inner Mongolia and East Turkestan COULD HAVE ACHIEVED a lot more than being Chinese colonies: The case for comparison is Mongolia. Mongolia is a dynamic democracy where freedom, liberty and human rights prevail, and it has one of the fastest growing economies, and it has 98 percent literacy rate, and other

  • longjohns

    China needs to grant more religious freedom. However, don’t confuse Tibetan Buddhism that ruled Tibet before Chinese reclaim authority with anything other than a theocratic serfdom worse than anything that the Taliban has ever dreamed up.

  • SteveR1

    So where are all the Obama zealots who support of the Syrian rebels and other (middle east) humanitarian gestures related to Nation building when it comes to Tibet? In the name of promoting freedom in the middle east, the claim is made that the US can utilize military intervention and ignore the sovereignty of these nations to bring “freedom” to the oppressed. Yet these so-called freedom zealots hypocritically overlook the humanitarian rights of the Tibetan’s.

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