Tibet: China's bloody crackdown on Tibetan protesters escalates, as self-immolations continue

Ethnic Tibetans throughout Tibet this week held some of the largest demonstrations against Chinese rule in four years. Chinese forces responded by shooting protesters. Up to 5 are said to have been killed and more than 30 wounded, according to Tibetan advocacy groups.

On January 9, a 42-year-old monk became the latest in a continuing string of desperate protesters who burned themselves alive to protest Chinese military rule and cultural repression.

A New York Times report gathered accounts from a number of human rights groups. NPR's Morning Edition today aired an extensive report on the worsening human rights crisis in Tibet (MP3 link).

Details are hard to confirm, as foreign press access to the areas involved is all but impossible. Free Tibet has more, and Radio Free Asia has compiled various reports.

Dr. Lobsang Sangay of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, issued a statement on the conflict, published in video on YouTube (and embedded above).

I want to tell my dear brothers and sisters inside Tibet that we hear your cries loud and clear. We urge you not to despair and refrain from extreme measures. We feel your pain and will not allow the sacrifices you have made go in vain. You all are in our heart and prayers each and every day. (...)

To demonstrate our solidarity with Tibetans in Tibet, I urge Tibetans and our friends around the world, to participate in a worldwide vigil on Wednesday, February 8, 2012. Let's send a loud and clear message to the Chinese government that violence and killing of innocent Tibetans is unacceptable! I request everyone to conduct these vigils peacefully, in accordance with the laws of your country, and with dignity.

Transcript here.

The Chinese government responded to activist groups' reports on one recent shooting incident with a statement blaming monks and protesters, saying they attacked stores and a police station, and started a riot.

“The mob, some armed with knives, threw stones at police officers and destroyed two police vehicles and two ambulances,” read the report from China's official news agency Xinhua.

And there are reports of fresh protests again today, with more shootings. From an item at Phayul.com, posted just three hours ago:

In reports coming out of Tibet, another Tibetan was killed and several others seriously injured in police firings in eastern Tibet earlier today. This is the third bloody incident this week when unarmed Tibetan demonstrators have been fired upon by Chinese security personnel. At around 12 noon local time, a Tibetan man named Tharpa put up signed flyers around Zu To Bharma Shang, declaring that until the demands of the Tibetans who have self-immolated are met, Tibetans will never abandon their struggle and continue to organise more campaigns.

Since March 2011, 16 Tibetans have set their bodies on fire demanding the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from exile and protesting China’s continued occupation of Tibet. In a release today, the exile base of Kirti monastery said that Tharpa had himself gone around the town putting up the flyers with his name clearly signed on it.

“You, Communist Chinese, come and arrest me,” Tharpa had challenged.

Following the wave of self-immolations, numerous flyers and pamphlets have been reportedly cited in Ngaba and Drango areas, stating that many more Tibetans were ready to set their bodies on fire.

(via Nathan Freitas and Oxblood Ruffin)


  1. After nearly two weeks in Tibet, it became painfully obvious that this is truly a strong, traditional, and peaceful group of people under oppressive rule.

    1. The first week I was all, “Punk ass wuss’s”, and then I was like “sheesh”, but then after the second week I was like “OMG they’re so strong, traditional, and peaceful under oppressive rule”

      1. I realize this isn’t a very long time… That’s probably why it was so surprising to get a much stronger impression from these people than from those I spent half a year around in eastern China. Especially considering no one in Tibet mentions their condition under fear of death.

        Experiment: Try constantly observing assault rifles on rooftops and street corners despite being surrounded by people quietly going about their daily business. See how long it takes to get the run of the place.

        No need for mockery here.

  2. I wonder it the Chinese authorities will call the self-immolation “asymmetric warfare against us”.

    1. According to this article, “The Dalai Lama previously called for Tibetans to remain calm and said he doesn’t condone self-immolation, although he has never condemned the act, believing the people who do it are desperate for change.” And also:

      “There is courage — very strong courage” by the people who set themselves on fire. “But how much effect? Courage alone is no substitute. You must utilize your wisdom.”

      For an interesting article about the tradition of self-immolation in Buddhism, see here.

      1. Interesting article about self-immolation. I don’t think the Vietnam examples apply: those were protests against ongoing slaughter, a far more extreme situation than what we have in China’s insistance on continuing its rule of Tibet, which is far older than the US’s rule of any land that had been Native American, or even Mexican. I’m reminded of rightwing suicide protests such as Yukio Mishima’s, where what is bemoaned is the loss of aristocratic privilege and an imaginary past where the serfs knew their place. (The article’s mention of the train as a bad thing is significant. The idea that Tibetans should be isolated from the world requires a certain amount of upper-class arrogance, I think.)

        1. I don’t think it’s purely about the rule of China itself, but what is being done to Tibetans under the rule–the attempt to destroy or drastically change the traditional religion is a big one, but in the Dalai Lama interview he also talks about how many Tibetans have been imprisoned and tortured and/or killed by the Chinese government. Perhaps one could compare it to the situation in South Africa under Apartheid when thinking about whether the situation is extreme enough to possibly justify this form of extreme protest.

          1. You didn’t address the issue of Tibetans being arrested and tortured/killed for political dissent–surely that merits some comparison to Apartheid. China does not attempt to eliminate Buddhism entirely, but I said “destroy or drastically change the traditional religion” because they try to control it and heavily modify it into something they see as more friendly to the state (the ban on devotion to the Dalai Lama himself is the most obvious example, but there are other issues such as the government placing strict controls on the administration of monasteries and forcing of monks and nuns to undergo political indoctrination, see this article for example). As for the Dalai Lama leaving the country, your accusation that he abandoned his people is ridiculous given that the Chinese government was making threats against him and threatening to bomb the palace he was living at, and he only left after they actually did fire several shells at the palace–the events leading up to his exile are discussed here. If he had stayed, it’s fairly certain they would have killed or “disappeared” him, in which case he wouldn’t have been able to help his followers at all.

            edit: weird, this comment was in reply to one from Red Morlock that now seems to have vanished…

      2. One important thing to note : Tibetan Buddhism is just one denomination of Buddhism. Like how Catholicism is kind of different from Protestants.

        Other major denominations are Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism (originating from Sri Lanka & India), Shinto, Zen etc.

        Theravada resonates with me the most : it advocates The Middle Path, and no fancy schmancy rituals and robes and reincarnated hierarchies (too much like the Catholic Church and the Vatican), just study and meditation. Look within yourself first then only without. No need for grand temples and palaces on remote mountains.

        1. The differences you mention aren’t really good ways of differentiating between Theravada and Mahayana, since both advocate the  “middle way”, and both include a lot of different sub-traditions. For example, Zen is a Mahayana tradition, and it’s pretty focused on “study and meditation” (though perhaps more meditation than study) and can’t really be said to feature a lot of “fancy schmancy rituals and robes and reincarnated hierarchies”. The difference between the two broad traditions is more about doctrinal questions like the meaning of enlightenment–see this article on Theravada and this one on Mahayana for example.

        2. Totally just nitpicking here, but Shinto isn’t Buddhist. It’s Japanese, like Zen, but the two aren’t really connected. Shinto might recognize Buddhism as a part of Japanese history and thus a part of Shinto, but Shinto itself is closer to animism.

        3. Both Theravada and Mahayana advocate The Middle Way, and although “fancy schmancy rituals and robes and reincarnated hierarchies” might be a way of describing Tibetan Buddhism, it doesn’t describe plenty of other branches of Mahayana like Zen. The real differences between Theravada and Mahayana are mostly doctrinal issues concerning the nature of enlightenment –Theravada is more about each individual trying to personally become enlightened and leave this reality forever, whereas Mahayana places more emphasis on the collective nature of enlightenment and the need for Buddhas to help others become enlightened, and it also emphasizes “nonduality” which in some schools suggests that any distinction between enlightenment and non-enlightenment, nirvana and samsara, is itself  not really absolute or final (though it may have a sort of “relative” truth).

          edit: sorry to repeat myself, my other reply to Ty_MY wasn’t showing up when I wrote this one

        4. Any middle way is good for Sri Lankans, so long as it doesn’t require the independence
          of the non-buddhist Tamil minority, whom the Theravada have a penchant for killing and suppressing while pretending that everything is normal.

          Sorry, but in order to be a good human being, you must go through ALL the trouble of the being-good thingy. Being Buddhist isn’t enough.

    1. Sometimes posts just don’t go through because of problems with the software…try again and see if it works.

  3. I don’t think Tibet will ever be free again. However, I do wish the Tibetans themselves could leave China and live freely elsewhere. As it is, they’re basically prisoners. It’s instantly reminiscent of Warsaw, 1941.

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