News / Asia

What Makes Tibetans Self-Immolate?

What Causes Tibetans to Self-Immolate?i
X
June 06, 2013 12:06 PM
More than 118 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest China’s policy in their homeland. Most of the self-immolators called for the return of the Dalai Lama and freedom for the Tibetan people. The Chinese government dismisses these acts as a political plot by the Dalai Lama and his followers to destabilize Tibet and discredit Beijing’s modernization programs there. VOA looks at the causes behind these horrific protests. Please note that this report contains some graphic scenes that viewers may find disturbing.

**Please note that this report contains some graphic scenes that viewers may find disturbing.

VOA News
More than 118 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest China’s policy in their homeland.  Most of the self-immolators called for the return of the Dalai Lama and freedom for the Tibetan people. The Chinese government dismisses these acts as a political plot by the Dalai Lama and his followers to destabilize Tibet and discredit Beijing’s modernization programs there.

The sacred is everywhere in Tibetan culture…a culture which holds compassion and respect for all life at its core. But since 2009, individual Tibetans have taken to soaking themselves in gasoline …often drinking mouthfuls...then stepping out into broad daylight to set themselves on fire in protest.

"The Tibetans are now moved to a point that they are expressing in what they feel is the strongest way they possibly can - I will give up my life in order to make the statement that I do not see a future for myself or my people as part of China," explained Steven Marshall, a member of the U.S. Congressional Executive Commission on China.

Click to enlarge
​ ​Mass protests, uprisings and even armed conflict between Tibetans and China go back more than 60 years to when the Dalai Lama was forced by Chinese troops to flee Tibet.  The most recent wide-scale protest took place in 2008, when Tibetans once again demanded greater religious and cultural freedoms, and an end to what some describe as totalitarian controls over Tibetan life.

"Since 2008, the whole Tibetan area, particularly Lhasa, has been under virtual martial law. Under these circumstances, group protests are naturally impossible because they can be put down almost immediately," remarked Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan writer and blogger in Beijing.

On February 27, 2009, a young monk named Tapey walked alone to the market area in Ngaba and became the first Tibetan to set himself on fire. Eyewitnesses say Chinese security forces shot the monk multiple times while he was still burning, before taking him into custody.

"Since China's takeover of Tibet in 1959 until now, China has attempted systematic destruction and annihilation of Tibetan culture, religion, politics and so forth. All these have accumulated as causes for the Tibetan self-immolations," said Dhondup Tashi Rekjong, a Tibetan writer and editor of Karkhung newspaper.

Chinese authorities blame the growing number of self-immolations on what they call the “Dalai Clique” and outside forces, which includes the exile Tibetan administration.

"Recently, some self-immolations of Tibetans happened in some ar eas in China. Judging from many cases, it is very clear that the Dalai clique were masterminding, inciting and encouraging them," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters.

China’s official state media have portrayed the self-immolators as impressionable youth with low self-esteem. They are described as having social and/or domestic problems and being easily influenced by news media images on the Voice of America, a charge VOA denies.

The United States is urging China to find solutions through talks with the Dalai Lama.

"The United States wants to see these kinds of tragic acts of self-immolation come to an end," U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said.

According to eyewitness accounts, the most common words spoken by self-immolators, often shouted while fully engulfed in flames, are ‘return the Dalai Lama to Tibet’ and ‘We want Freedom.’  At least 100 of the more than 110 self-immolators have died.  Hundreds of people associated with the self-immolators have been detained. Some have been sentenced to long prison terms or death.


Don't miss the VOA Film “Fire in the Land of Snow: Self-immolations in Tibet” which premieres June 6 at 1:00 pm EST.

You May Like

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

Physically and culturally close to Western Europe, Lviv feels solidarity with compatriots in country’s east but says they need to decide own future More

West African Women Disproportionately Affected by Ebola

Women's roles in families and the community put them at greater risk for contracting the disease, officials say More

Video NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives at Mars

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft will measure rates at which gases escape Martian atmosphere into space More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid