In Tibet, a mother of 3 burns herself alive in protest of Chinese rule

A woman identified as Rikyo, said to be 33 years old and the mother of three young children, burned herself to death today in what is believed to have been another desperate act of protest against China’s repressive policies in Tibet. According to the Tibetan pro-sovereignty website Phayul, she set herself on fire near the Jonang Zamthang Gonchen monastery in Zamthang county, in Ngaba region, the epicenter of a continuing wave of Tibetan self-immolations.

Rikyo’s body is currently being kept at the Jonang Monastery, although Chinese security personnel have reportedly demanded the body to be removed. Rikyo is survived by her husband and three children, the eldest, a 9-year old son and two daughters aged 7 and 5.

Just three days ago, two ethnic Tibetan men self-immolated in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, at what is considered to be the ancient city's most important temple. Chinese police and firefighters arrived at Jokhang, extinguished flames, and removed the men. Their whereabouts and conditions are unknown.

From VOA:

One of the self-immolators was reportedly a 19 year old named Dorjee Tseten, originally from Amdo Bora, and the other young man is reportedly from Amdo Ngaba, although the source couldn’t confirm this information with absolute certainty. Both men had lived in Lhasa for some time and worked at a local restaurant named Nyima Ling.

The immediate and widespread security clampdown that followed included the cutting of telephone and internet connections, the inspection of all cameras and cell phones within a certain perimeter of where the immolations occurred, and numerous detentions yet to be fully confirmed. It is reported that the site of the immolations was immediately cleaned and that there were no traces of the event having taken place.

That incident occurred on the 6th day of Saga Dawa, the month-long annual celebration of the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death.

Since February, 2009, 38 ethnic Tibetans are reported to have burned themselves alive, demanding cultural and religious freedom and the return of their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama from exile.

More: VOA, RFA.


  1. Sad indeed.  I just wish the violence was directed at the Chinese establishment instead of inwards as a form of protest, but the fact that a mother of 3 would go to these lengths illustrates the powerlessness they feel.

    Here’s hoping the next story out of Tibet is about colonial Chinese buildings being burned to the ground. Evacuation optional.

  2. What is the logic or mindset behind self immolation? What a counter productive waste of time in the face of a totalitarian regime .

    1. From where I’m standing, it seems like the most emphatic kind of protest imaginable.

      I guess the fact that the totalitarian regime in question won’t give a damn is half the point; I suppose it’s an (obviously quite hopeless) appeal to whatever shreds of humanity remain to rise up against the regime. Almost a punishment for anyone capable of empathising, for letting it come to this.

      Here’s an angle or two…

  3. I really wish the Tibetans, albeit the extremist ones would find a better way to protest against China.  Killing themselves is doing the Chinese government a favor, and saving up prison space more than anything.  It would be far better to protest verbally, with written word or to rally people together than to simply kill one’s self.

    1. Dude… read up on what’s happening there. Granted it might be safer to protest in Tibet than in Syria but not by much.

      During peaceful protests by monks:
      “According to a news source affiliated with a Tibetan exile group, the People’s Armed Police had blocked off water, electricity, food and health facilities in Sera, Drepung and Ganden monasteries and others active in the demonstrations. As a consequence, monks were suffering starvation, and on March 25 one monk reportedly died from starvation at Ramoche Temple.”

      “The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy reported that a Tibetan woman, 38, who was involved in peaceful protests on 16 and March 17, 2008 in Ngaba County, died after being tortured in a Chinese prison. Following her release, the government hospital, possibly under the influence of local Chinese authorities, had refused to admit her.”

      The Chinese government are fucking monsters and we seriously shouldn’t let them sit at the big boys table yet. They are clearly not ready and are not doing a thing to earn the place except for manufacturing everything we use and infringing patents til the cows come home. They have made movements for social change almost stagnant anywhere their cheesy flag flies.

      1. You are aware that our governement killed civilians by the hundreds of thousands during the last ten years alone?
        That our government tortured people?

        So if you see ‘us’ sitting at the big boys table, you are definitely right: 

        China has a lot of catching up to do in terms of attrocities to make it to the big boys table.

        Now i’ll let the kids play and fantasize about violence against Chinese and feel good about themselves.
        Good night.

        1. No, you’re absolutely incorrect about this. The US government has way fewer human rights violations, even including suspected incidents that never go public. China probably has more atrocities in it’s *public* record than the US does in total.

          We’re talking about a nation that yes, murders civilians,  and yes, tortures people, but does this to *anyone who protests*. They have filtered internet communications, anyone who has more than the normal amount of encrypted data is seriously investigated. China has an overall culture in its authorities that, if you’re caught protesting more than once, you are very likely to be executed. 

          If you honestly think that the US is anywhere near China’s level of human rights violations and crimes, you need to gain some perspective. Organize a protest here, then one in mainland China, I dare you.

          1. if you’re caught protesting more than once, you are very likely to be executed

            Now this is totally made up. Either that or you flunked Statistics 101. Things are bad enough as it is but China is no North Korea. Unchecked hyperbole really detracts from your credibility, just sayin’.

        2. Yeah… what Giorgio said without the hyperbole. Protesting in China (provided you aren’t protesting certain topics, or organising protests) is likely to get you time in a labour camp for some 1984-esque Re-education through labor.

          Plus I’m not American. There’s no evidence Australia tortured or assisted in renditions but our PM from a few years ago had Bush’s cock so far down his throat it was basically food, so I can’t say for certain we didn’t. In any case, even the post 9/11 US is like freedom pie on awesome day compared to China.

          1. I was not comparing freedom levels in China and the US.
            I was comparing attrocities level (‘the Chinese being fucking monsters’) between China and the US during the last ten years.
            And there the US loses hands down.
            Ask the dead civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever else we meddle up until this day.
            But still, it’s really good to know that you can have a protest about that in a town square without going to jail.

            Addendum: I believe in collective shame and as an Australian you are part of the team for both Afghanistan and Iraq. But thats just my opinion.

      2. Well I just read a press release from China’s Ministry of Information and it said everyone is happy over there, doing fine and communism is totally working.

  4. Not that I doubt the article’s veracity (I really don’t!) but a VOA story involving China should be read with as much skepticism as a China Radio International piece about America.

  5. I hate to say it, but for a mother of three kids to do this is irresponsible. Don’t get me wrong, I do feel with the Tibetans, and I cannot even begin to imagine the desperation that would drive people to set themselves on fire as a form of protest. But I also think that if you have children then you have no right to sacrifice their future and well-being to political ideals. Now, someone might say, “they don’t have a future in Tibet, which is why people are doing this kind of thing”, and you wouldn’t be far from the truth. But this will make their lives even worse, not better. It will traumatize them for the rest of their lives, and if political change comes, they will still be traumatized. So, if you are a monk or someone with no other responsibilities and you think that the one and only form and protest left for you is self-immolation then I feel true pity for you, and I wouldn’t think of blaming you for it. But if you’re a mother of three, this is nothing but a glorified suicide to get out of a desperate situation. 

    1. But I also think that if you have children then you have no right to sacrifice their future and well-being to political ideals.

      Does that mean that nobody with children should join the military?

      1. You don’t get set on fire the second you get your dog-tags. 

        Other than that, it’s an interesting question all around…lay low and keep your family alive as best you can, or fight for your ideals and your family and country’s better future? Are they always/never separate fights? It all seems easy until you’re faced with that choice, and later generations will judge you harshly, because they will have no clear notion of the actual decision you had to make. 

        In post-socialist Poland today, so many teenage kids can’t understand why their parents had the nerve to live ordinary lives ‘instead of’ fighting the oppressive government. They seem to think that flaming barricades were the only ethical option…and that they would have solved everything neatly and quickly, too. They think that not raging 24/7 was some sort of betrayal of ideals- that if you weren’t a brick-throwing dissident, you were a bribe-taking collaborator. In their young minds, nothing in between exists- you were not allowed to pick your battles.

        And yet in today’s aura of relative freedom, when protesting against an injustice doesn’t entail being ‘vanished’ by the secret service,  they  sacrifice their ideals every day to laziness, comfort, greed. Hell, they. I should say, we. In matters both close to and far from home. Just because Tibet is miles away and I’m not Tibetan doesn’t mean I’m exempt from giving a damn.So I make that choice, too, I suppose, every day, to continue living normally and not go out on a limb for a political ideal. Except my choice is much easier to make than that young mother’s. 

        Gosh this stuff is all so sad :(

      2. No. While I think military in general is a bad idea, it’s not the same as this. That’s taking a risk, like cops and firefighters, not suicide.

  6. It’s interesting how polarised the comments are. Tibetophiles seem reluctant to say anything negative about a mother of three young children horrifically killing herself in public; they seem to be apologists for this senseless violence. The rest of us are thinking, fucking hell, what about her kids?  Her children who now grow up in an authoritarian regime *without their mother*.  Well that’s one in the eye for the oppressor. NOT.

    Some have pointed out that the self-immolators are playing into Chinese hands. And so they are.  Each occurrence is followed by an even more draconian crack-down.  Whereas, apart from Russia, the world is outraged by the Syrian murder of it’s people; the world looks at a large number of religious fanatics burning themselves in public as lunatics at best, or perhaps as rather ineffective suicide terrorists. 

    Women abandoning their children seldom get much sympathy. The Chinese can now point to this and shrug and say “look at what we have to deal with.” And most of the people in power in the West will sympathise with them.

    People should know that none of this is consistent with the general drift of Buddhist teaching which strongly emphasises *non-violence*, and what justification there might be comes from a fundamentalist reading of certain Buddhist texts. These people are religious fanatics. Not as dangerous as some of the Christian and Muslim fanatics, but still… sick enough.

  7. (Reply to stretchoutandwait, above, somehow this didn’t get linked to your comment)

    One thing that makes these acts hard to understand is that we do not know anything about the dozens of people who have done it. We don’t know their motivation, their mental state, their histories, and so forth.

    So, the easiest thing for us to do is to interpret them as simple protests.

    But, we might also keep in mind that these are also clearly suicides. So it might help to think about the actors in some of the same ways that we think of others who take their own lives. I know this doesn’t answer your question (I’m not sure we can answer it with evidence), but it might allow us another way of thinking about the situation.

  8. From:

    At 76, the Dalai Lama has announced his retirement as a political leader, but retains his role as spiritual leader of some five million Tibetans.But he has remained strangely quiet on the subject of the self-immolations – 32 of which have taken place in the past year alone.”Now this is very, very sensitive political issue,” he explains with due solemnity.

    Just saying, he’s jumped the shark.

  9. pleas to protest in writing, commentaries on the efficacy of the chosen method of protest, faux-sophisticated analysis of the political structures surrounding the events and the blame they are libel for, lofty analyses of the emergent antipodean classification commenters self-attribute.
    We are so clever.

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