Tibet on Fire: Self-Immolations Rising
Image Credit: Flickr (andrewdyson)

Tibet on Fire: Self-Immolations Rising


On February 24, Phagmo Dundrup, a Tibetan farmer in his early twenties, committed the ultimate act of protest, setting himself on fire in the monks’ debating area of Chachung monastery in Tsoshar Prefecture, Qinghai province, in eastern Tibet’s Amdo region.

A day later, Tseung Kyab, another Tibetan in his twenties, did the same outside Shitsang Gonsar monastery in Luqu county, Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in China’s Gansu province (also in the Amdo region). Both died.

A third monk also self immolated in Sichuan province the same day. Police extinguished the flames and he was rushed to a hospital before ending up in an unknown location.

These were the most recent in a mounting list of Tibetan monks who have self-immolated. According to Kate Saunders, Communications Director of the International Campaign for Tibet, since February 2009, some 107 Tibetans have lit themselves on fire in China, including a 19-year-old female student, a widowed mother of four, and the grandfather of an important reincarnate lama. (A full list of self-immolations by Tibetans can be seen here.) And the number is rising.

“There was an escalation in self-immolations in Tibet during and after the Chinese Communist Party Congress – a once-in-a-decade leadership transition – with 28 Tibetans setting fire to themselves last November when the Congress was held,” Saunders told The Diplomat.

Of the recent wave of self-immolations, she added, “This constitutes one of the biggest waves of self-immolation as political protest globally in the past 60 years.”

While it is hard to imagine the scene witnessed by the religious pilgrims who were said to be gathered at the monasteries last month to commemorate the end of the Tibetan New Year festival (Losar), legendary war correspondent for The New York Times David Halberstam recounted a similar incident in his book The Making of a Quagmire – in this case, the self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc. The account reads:

“Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think…. As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.”

A haunting photograph of Thich Quang Duc engulfed in flames while sitting in a meditative pose, just as Halberstam described, has become a universal icon for protest against injustice. So ubiquitous has the image become that even the MTV generation instantly recognizes it via rock band Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled album cover released in 1992.

As an article in Time magazine notes, this ultimate act of self-sacrifice is not new. In India, there was the practice of sati, in which widows burned themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres. This rite stemmed from the Hindu myth of Sati, wife of Shiva, who committed herself to flames after her father insulted her husband.

kiwi asian
April 15, 2013 at 08:53

This site is interesting because of the articles that reach beyond popular press. On top of this it a wide variety of commenters are openly received from an international audience including you Zhang Minshi. 

I guess I should exercise restraint but I'm tempted to quote.


March 24, 2013 at 05:07

@ JC, 


So you can not dispute my statements, you have no choice but to blam others such as the West, India, and so on. Typical of you and chinese posters. Thanks for keep us laughing at you guys and your government.

March 23, 2013 at 01:52

@Zhang Minshi:  Is this the best you could come up with?  I feel sorry for you, sick man of Asia, that you're still sick.

[...] Campaign for Tibet. The number of immolations has continued its incremental rise since the National Party Congress in November, when twenty-eight Tibetans self-immolated in that month alone. Last week, Chinese authorities [...]

[...] Tibet on Fire: Self-Immolations Rising (thediplomat.com) [...]

Kim's Uncle
March 22, 2013 at 04:35

Not one ethnic Chinese inside china or outside china has commented on the horrorific act of self-immolation by Tibetans! This is something that cannot be ignored or denied !

Chinese civilization has not evolved enough to recognize that compassion for one’s fellow human being transcend race and ethnicity! Chinese still define themselves at a tribal level unable to empathize to the suffering of other human beings who are not of the same racial or ethnic stock. No wonder commie Chinese have to de humanize Tibetans in order to rationalize their cruelty as justification for cruelty towards them!

Zhang Minshi
March 21, 2013 at 04:53

The Diplomat is a CIA propaganda broadsheet with a mission to slander and defame.  Its mission is to give a one sided comments about the US's self declared enemies. Champions of freedom of speech, democracy, and human rights?  What hogwash.  Its censorship here is no different if not worse than the Chinese government's they so love to villify.  Hypocrites all, you American yanks.

John Chan
March 20, 2013 at 10:06


Tibetan-in-Exile armed by the American, British and Indian did take up arm and tried to fight and kick out the PLA, but they failed because no Tibetan support them; Tibetans did not want the regressive theocratic feudal slave owner DL and his monks and lords come back to treat them like two-leg cows, gouging their eyes, making their skulls as drinking bows for DL’s birthday party, trading them like merchandize…

The West has been fabricating reality to justify their bombing and killing non-stop since WWII, your fabrication is no long creditable.

BTW the survived Tibet-in-Exile fighters are now sent by the Indian army to the most harshest posts to spend rest of their lives in isolation.

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