Tibet is burning: exiles mourn latest in string of self-immolation suicide protests

A Tibetan exile in Dharamsala, India, weeps as the body of Jamphel Yeshi is carried for cremation inside the Tsuglagkhang temple, in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala on March 30, 2012.

Yeshi, 27, a Tibetan man, set himself ablaze on Monday at a protest criticizing China's President Hu Jintao's visit to India. He died in a local hospital from his injuries, the general secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress said in a statement. Born in Tibet but living in exile in India, Yeshi was an activist with the youth organization, which seeks independence for the Himalayan region, under Chinese rule for more than six decades. A photograph of Yeshi as he set himself on fire is below.

More graphic images here.

Tibetan settlements throughout India were "fortified" with heavy police presence following the incident. Within three days, two more Tibetan monks in China set themselves on fire in a similar act of protest.

Dozens of Tibetans have self-immolated in the past year to protest Chinese oppression. In addition to dousing themselves with fuel, some drink kerosene, so that the flames will explode from within.

More on the ongoing phenomenon, and why the world doesn't seem to be paying much attention: Associated Press, CNN, NYT.

A response to the latest protest-suicides in the state-controlled China Daily proposes a solution for Tibetans: "embrace the goodwill of the central [Chinese] government."



    1. It’s not ‘depression’. It’s outrage at China’s Iron Fist strangling the people of Tibet. I suggest you read a little history and not some pop psychology article from Time Magazine.

          1. No kidding, like me. Of course, I have meds which make my life perfectly good I’m lucky to say. 
            What I’m saying is- Depression + Oppression + A culture which sees ending your life in such a way as not only acceptable, but commendable = A way to end it all without shame. For a person who has problems, it could seem like a good answer.

        1. People are capable of doing all kinds of suicidal stuff without it being chalked up to depression.  Take war, for example: do soldiers sign up because they have depression?  Why do you immediately go to depression as the explanation for this act of protest?

          I dunno about you, but if all I wanted was to die, I probably wouldn’t choose “slowly burned alive” as my exit strategy.  These folks are clearly using their bodies to make the most powerful and solemn protest statement they have the capacity to make.

          1. Why do I immediately bring it up? I’ve read about research about suicide terrorists saying this very thing. Are Tibetans following the same path? Maybe some aren’t, maybe some are, but I think it’s a question worth asking. 

        2. This, in reply to your comment below.
          Characterising immolation as being seen as commendable is an ignorant misapprehension.
          This is probably one of the more subtle and insidious of the culturally biased comments purporting misinformation regarding Tibet in this thread.
          I’m not really blaming you or anyone else for their stereotyping in this regard, the West, technically, doesn’t give a shit; and this is obviously reflected in the quality of news coverage on the topic.
          However, it is incumbent upon you to teach yourself not to spread bullshit for the purpose of dialectics.

        1. Self-immolation started the Arab Spring. 

          Tibetan Buddhism is all sorts of things, but it is not a suicide cult.

    2. That might very well be true.  With that said, keep in mind that in Buddhism reincarnation is held to be true.

      It’s a lot easier to light that match with the hope that all your (coming) pain might make it more likely for you to be born into the world you desire.

      1. I’m not so sure of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, but I have a feeling that suicide is enough to get you a summary judgment of spending the next few dozen rebirths as a worm…

        It would be better to figure out exactly what they say about suicide before jumping to conclusions…

    3. Indeed, just look at the Palestinians who also favour suicide to the resounding applause of their society: albeit with the difference that they also like to take out as many random civilians with them as they can get.  This clearly points out that the way to peace in the Middle East is lots of Prozac in the water supplies of the disputed territories.

    4. terry, depression doesn’t exist in a vacuum. people  get depressed because depressing things are done to them. when those depressing things are sustained, depression becomes endemic and damaging. populations where this is the case are called “oppressed”. 

      your comment is really, really obnoxious. 

  1. When one person immolates themselves, it’s horrifying. Two is disturbing. Three is newsworthy.

    Dozens is just some weird cultural oddity.

      1. Does it, though? At a certain point it’s just no longer news.

        Further, even if it is news, at a certain point you have to ask “why is the Dali Llama asking so many of his followers to self-immolate?” It starts to make China’s accusations reasonable.

        1.  You’re making an idiotic statement. The Dalai Lama isn’t asking his “followers” to self-immolate. In fact, he’s spoken out against the practice. Strangely enough, people decide to engage in this act anyway.

  2. What I find sad/interesting is the cultural practices in place here: 
    These Tibetan protestors are eager to die in pursuit of their goal, yet they don’t seem to be eager to take up arms (either in a revolt or in suicide attacks against Chinese troops). 

    While setting yourself aflame is a pretty shocking protest, I don’t think Chinese officials are going to be too choked up over the deaths of a few more protestors. Are there any calls for armed revolt by Tibetan groups or does the practice of Buddhism eliminate that as a course of action?

    1. Dude,

      Where the fuck do you think the protesters are going to get arms in a country that’s occupied by a totalitarian regime and completely surrounded by Himalayan peaks?

        1. They pushed out the Soviet invaders, and eventually formed a terrorist organization commonly refered to as Al-Qaeda?

          The trouble with Tibet is that Tibetans are no longer a majority. Even if a democratic referendum on succession from China were held, it probably wouldn’t pass.

      1. Well shit, it’s not like there’s not scads of arms coursing through that part of the world from collapsed Russian states, internecine Indian/Afghan/Pakistani conflicts, and all manner of other corrupt Asian sources. 

        Not saying it’d be a walk in the park, but it sure sounds like a hell of a lot more goal-oriented than setting yourself on fire and hoping to sway world opinion enough to stand up to a hardline Communist regime. 

        1. For example.  It’s a month overland from the nearest road to the Nangpa La.  Which is at 18,000 feet.  And heavily guarded.  Chinese soldiers killed several people there in 2006 and abducted, injured, tortured, imprisoned 32 people. 

          The guns floating around in the area are in the hands of Maoist rebels.  Maoist rebels giving guns to Tibetans fighting China?  Think about it.

          I mean, why didn’t those silly African slaves in the US just get weapons and free themselves?  I guess they weren’t sufficiently “goal oriented”.

          1. I know it’s not going to counter the snarky disdain, but you’re glossing over numerous instances of slave uprisings throughout the Caribbean, N& S Americas, Africa, etc.  And I hardly think that the bands of slaves fighting to get free of bondage qualify as “silly” for not caring that the odds were hopeless.

            Not to mention similarly disproportionate uprisings in Cuba, Polish Ghettos, American Indian protests, British-controlled India, early Civil Rights protests, the West Bank…  

            Not to say all of those were successful. But being outmatched or outgunned doesn’t really seem like a reason to do your foes the favor of silencing your voice.

          2. @boingboing-754e78f41a761866efcbe80aee9e80d1:disqus Being outmatched and outgunned is certainly grounds for trying to find more effective strategies than getting everyone killed by fighting a losing war…

          3. It’s interesting, very few people here seem to be aware that the Tibetan “liberation” of 1959 was far from peaceful. The Tibetans actually received a huge amount of weaponry and support from the CIA, including training in Colorado and Saipan. The guerrilla warfare lasted roughly 20 years, with US support ending around the time of Nixon’s rapprochement with “Red” China.



            The Chinese are aware of this history, and the state media make a big deal out of the Dalai Lama’s involvement with the CIA to portray him as a splittist stooge.


    2.  The Dalai Lama and others in the Tibetan Government in Exile have been actively trying to keep people from taking up arms for decades. Younger groups are actively agitating for things like this, and making connects to Hamas and other organizations, so I would expect that it will begin occurring eventually, no matter what the governmental or religious leaders say.

    3. Self immolation as protest isn’t about getting the attention of the oppressor. It’s to get the rest of the worlds attention. If they attacked the Chinese troops they would just be labelled as rebels, and if they injured or killed civilians they would be terrorists. This is probably the best way to get a lot of attention without being seen as anything but a victim.

  3. I am four square with the Tibetan people and volunteer when I can to help various Tibetan-friendly causes, so my empathy is 100% with the Tibetan people. 

    However, self-immolation is horrific and pointless. The Chinese government is no more likely to be moved by dozens of self-immolating Tibetans than by hundreds of them. In fact, based on their ruthless campaign to de-Tibetify Tibet, the fewer Tibetans, the better, I am sure they would say. That is not meant to be glib! I am CERTAIN they don’t care. AT ALL. Whether or not it gets world headlines. The Chinese government has absolutely no history of caving to pressure in the media, and Tibetans setting themselves on fire is thus as pointless as it is tragic.What disappoints me tremendously is that, unless I have missed it, the Dalai Lama has not come forward to discourage this wretched practice. 

    1. Exactly – not to be flip about it at all, but I’m sure the government in Beijing is more than happy to supply the gas and matches for these poor souls. 

      I’m not very aware of an honest assessment of the two sides in this fight – it just feels like these are the regular people getting ground up as grist in the ongoing conflict.  Good point about the Dalai Lama – not sure I’ve ever heard him weigh in against these kinds of sacrifices… 

        1. I’m not sure that having the DL tell people how to run their liberation struggle is a good idea. Personally, I have plenty of ethical problems with it. But not telling other people how to free themselves is very close to the top of my ethical parameters pyramid.

    2.  They’ve caved to domestic pressure on a number of issues one would expect no quarter in. The fact that this is one of the 3 T’s does bring it over one of the fat red lines, but the woman who killed a Party cadre in self-defense with a manicure knife or the fishing village who expelled all Party officials also crossed such a line. The question is whether the populace at large will identify with the Tibetans. That is where it gets less hopeful, rather than the central government’s invincibly thick skin as you suppose.

  4. This is not eagerness to die…nor to jump off the wheel of life in the hope that the next life is more fortunate…their belief system doesn’t work that way.  As the moderator said, this is an attempt to sway world opinion…not Chinese opinion which they already know can’t be swayed directly.  When options for protest are so limited, and the world press  has many choices of what events to cover(although not the American press which mostly deals in stories of self-interest), it requires an act like this/these to draw attention…a visceral act of the highest order.  This is not a Shamalan movie…it is real, thoughtful, and hopefully a step towards world attention.  It will require a coalition of world voices protesting the Tibetan situation for any Chinese movement in the least.  Which will sadly and most probably not happen…

  5. The amount of ignorant opining on this practice, from people who know just about nothing about Tibetan culture, and about what life is like for Tibetans, astounds me. 

    Who the Hell are we to say anything at all about whether or not these people “should” be killing themselves like this? Let alone what effects it does or doesn’t serve?

      1. So there’s no difference to you between saying something about a topic that you know next to nothing about because it’s far, far outside your range of experience and knowledge, and saying something about a topic that you’re reasonably informed about? 

        You’re the kind of person I keep edging away from at parties.

      2. so you’re trolling? on a subject related to people dying? maybe you need to up the meds. 

    1. This sounds almost exactly like the arguments in favour of female genital mutilation.

      There’s a crowd around this guy. None of them are making any attempt whatsoever to put him out. That is seriously fucked up.

      1. This sounds almost exactly like the arguments in favour of female genital mutilation.

        If women were mutilating their own genitals as a political protest, you might have some kind of analogy to make there.

  6. I wholeheartedly support Tibet but I would greatly appreciate it if they stopped burning themselves alive. There’s no reason to needlessly upset people with these disturbing images. It is a form of asymmetrical warfare, and it’s not fair to the Chinese government.

    In the future, I must insist that all Tibetans style their protests after the quiet, unremarkable Western variety.

    Thank you for your time, Tibet.

  7. I’m glad to see this being reported here at least. What’s comparably unfortunate to the lack of exposure of the act itself is a deficit of ubiquitous understanding of the circumstances that lead to this result (myself included). Nuanced information seems extremely hard to come by (?) and certainly isn’t being presented and made available widely, so there’s no easy bridge of understanding btwn cause and effect. Hard to imagine forcing the hand of change without these dots being connect-able (otherwise you’re left with people dismissing the act and satisfying themselves with gross mischaracterization). I understand a bit of the bigger picture but looking fw to more in-depth reporting and first hand accounts.

  8. It’s not directly comparable to throwing yourself on a grenade for your comrades but essentially; people are sacrificing their lives in order to bring attention to the untenable and inhumane circumstances of their community.
    It seems impossible to come up with a cultural comparison but respecting the actions of a person who died with the intention of making your life better may not be so difficult to understand.

  9. There are a number of reasons the Tibetans aren’t getting much traction with this:
    – They’re not following the accepted and lauded path of also murdering as many random people as they can when they go.  This makes it difficult for Western media to lazily frame the story unless to criticise the Tibetans for not having the moral fortitude to blow up buses of Chinese kids or something.  Look at the Palestinians.  They’ve been adding random murder to their acts for a long time now but, although they haven’t accomplished a single thing either, it’s not for lack of sympathetic media coverage.
    – They’re also not following the script of the failed slave uprisings through the world so it can’t lazily be framed that way either.  (Every primarily armed slave uprising in modern times has failed with the (sort of) exception of Haiti.)  This failure to do what no one else has done implies a need for external help for survival and, since none is forthcoming, a criticism of the bystanders.  Who needs another reminder of our passive acceptance of genocide?
    – You can’t use the situation to bash Jews or Yanks so much of the protest industry just can’t get into it.  If the situation can’t be used in local parochial squabbles what good is it?  See Edward Said’s theories of Racist Orientalism.

    1.  Also, in our Western cultures, suicide is generally seen as an act of failure. It’s different if you kill yourself to save your friends/comrades, or do it as part of an attack. We may be aghast at the techniques of suicide bombers or their historic equivalents, but we “get it” from, as said, an asymmetric warfare standpoint. A suicide protest that doesn’t kill anybody else? It doesn’t jive with our (often overblown) senses of self worth. We believe (again, culturally) that any individual is so special and has such great potential, that killing yourself over a cause essentially denies your future abilities/contributions to that cause. You’ve basically said, “I’m worth more to this purpose dead than alive.” And — again, I’m not saying this is right, just that I’ve observed it — this is a fundamentally bizarre notion for many of us.

      What most people I’ve talked to about this type of protest say is something akin to, “I just don’t get it.”

      Not that that makes “not getting it” OK. But it might explain some of the lack of response in the Western press.

  10. With China’s record on human rights abuses this probably saves them both time and trouble.
    While, I empthasize with the Tibetan people’s struggle, I don’t see how killing themselves will help their cause.  If these people are so emphatic about their opposition of Chinese rule they could better support their cause I think by lending voices not dying screams…to their cause.

  11. Must be a magical number of comments allowed here, since some of mine have been removed. They could have just told me “enough, move along”. As it is, it looks like I’ve removed them and I have not. 

    1. You’ve said the same thing a half dozen times. And the thing that you’ve said is not about Tibet but about how you feel about your own comments. So, yes, I removed some of the redundancies.

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