Losar: Tibetan New Year, and "mandatory celebrations"

Inside Tibet and elsewhere, ethnic Tibetans are today observing Losar, or Tibetan New Year. Above: Tibetan women pray around Labrang Monastery in Xiahe county, Gansu Province.

Three Tibetan Buddhist monks set have themselves on fire since Friday, in the latest reported self-immolations denouncing Chinese policies in Tibet and demanding the return of the Dalai Lama. The youngest was an 18-year-old named Nangdrol. From the Tibetan government in exile:

He died on the spot. Chinese police officers attempted to take away his body, but were prevented from doing so by the monks of Zamthang Jonang monastery. The monks later cremated him and performed all the necessary rituals and prayers for the deceased. According to eyewitnesses, while setting himself on fire Nangdrol folded his hands in a gesture of peace, calling for the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet.

Police and military presence are high throughout the region, particularly at monasteries where these tragic acts of self-sacrifice have taken place. By various accounts, as many as 25 Tibetans inside Tibet have self-immolated in protest in the past two years.

Many Tibetans are abstaining from celebrating Losar, as an act of protest and of mourning for those who have burned themselves to death. In response, Communist Party officials in Lhasa have banned those boycotts, resulting in what are described as "mandatory celebrations" of Tibetan New Year. In essence, Beijing is forcing mourning Tibetans to party.

The English-language Global Times, owned by People's Daily (the Communist Party's official newspaper) published this rich line of Newspeak:

The country's Tibetan-populated regions are in a party mood as the Tibetan New Year, or Losar, falls today, striking a stark contrast with the call by the "Tibetan government in exile" to cancel celebrations.

The Losar holiday, which lasts two weeks, is followed by the 53rd anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, which took place on March 10, 1959. It's hard to imagine the climate of military intimidation and surveillance in the region ratcheting up any higher, but the uprising anniversary date typically brings just that.

In Dharamsala, India, the home of the Tibetan government in exile and the Dalai Lama, three Tibetans today began an indefinite hunger strike. Solidarity protests were held around the world.

Below, a monk in Gansu province holds up a photo of the exiled spiritual leader. In Tibet, this simple act is a crime.

More coverage around the web: Reuters, WSJ, VOA, NYT/IHT, WaPo. Louisa Lim's report from Tibet for NPR's All Things Considered is a must-listen.

(photos: REUTERS/Carlos Barria)


  1. “Beijing is forcing mourning Tibetans to party.”

    How ironic: the flip side of the North Koreans, who were forcing their probably secretly celebrating people to mourn.

  2. I saw the title and instantly the Lothar of the Hill People song went into my head, I had to comment on the image and title and then I proceeded to read the article… Sad, so sad.

  3. Does the government of China really care that these monks are self immolating. I just don’t understand how this kind of protest works.  If I were the Chinese government my reaction would be, “Great, one less monk to pester us about freedom for Tibet.”

    1. No. We’ll keep on buying their exports anyway. But what do the protesters gain in terms of Tibetan Buddhism for themselves or others? Is there any spiritual gain over and above any supposed political advantage to be had? Religion and self-sacrifice always makes me suspect a pretext however poorly understood. The one thing the CCP is not forcing people to do is set themselves alight – they can always claim their hands are clean.

  4. “It is a tragic and yet heroic thing that so many young and older Tibetan monks and nuns are offering their bodies to the flames to appeal to the world’s heart to have compassion for the plight of the spiritual people of Tibet, under the harsh boots of the Chinese dictatorship. No one tells them to do it – in fact their mentors tell them not to even think of it, since they should bear whatever suffering inflicted on them with patience and use their precious human lives to develop their wisdom and compassion and attain buddhahood for the sake of all living beings. Yet their is a tradition within the spiritual heroes and heroines of Buddhism to offer the body out of altruism, love, and the joy of freedom, never motivated by hatred or anger. They do believe that dying in that positively motivated way leads to a better rebirth where they can continue to serve all beings, so they grit their teeth and bear the agony to teach others that material possessions and dominance and force are not the be all and end all. Their act is the absolute opposite of the suicide bomber who self-destructs with the agenda of hatred in order to kill others. These give away their body out of love, not to harm, to offer others, even if the message is subliminal to those obsessed with power, a vision of freedom from bondage to anything. If you watch this, be reverent and open your heart and pray that all oppressors everywhere are moved to relent and relax their grip – let free and be free themselves!” -Robert Thurman

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