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The Dalai Lama Will Not Return to Lead Tibet (He Has Something Better in Mind)

Jason Louv reports on a surprising decision and what it means for Tibet’s uncertain future

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Wife of imprisoned Tibetan filmmaker to deliver birthday cards to China Consulate in SF, Wed., Oct. 9, 2013


Filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen.

For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area who would like to show support, here's a quick update on the case of imprisoned Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, who made the documentary "Leaving Fear Behind," which is embedded above. Wangchen and a collaborator who is a Tibetan monk are in prison in China for the crime of making this film. It documents the opinions of ordinary Tibetan people about China's communist government, and the exiled Dalai Lama, in the year leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. They interviewed 108 Tibetan people; that number is a sacred number in Tibetan Buddhism.

From filmingfortibet.org and friends-of-tibet.org:

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Tibetan monks shot by Chinese police for praying on Dalai Lama’s birthday

The International Campaign for Tibet reports that "Two Tibetan monks were shot in the head and several others seriously injured after Chinese police opened fire at a crowd gathered to peacefully celebrate the 78th birthday of the Dalai Lama in Nyitso, Tawu, eastern Tibet, on Saturday (July 6)."

As Tibetans celebrate the Dalai Lama's 78th birthday, a video snapshot of Tibet Lobby Day

As the world marks the Dalai Lama’s 78th birthday, the Tibetan community marks a grim milestone: 120 Tibetans, mostly youth, have burned themselves alive to protest China’s repressive rule. Xeni Jardin traveled to Washington, DC to document a group of Tibetan-American activists asking lawmakers to open up immigration doors for political refugees, and hold China accountable.

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The people of Tibet need help now

Sunday marks the most important date for all Tibetans; those inside Tibet as well as those in diaspora across the globe.

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Watch a Tibetan Wheel of Life mandala take form

Tenzin Wangdu Thokme, L, and Ven. Lama Losang Samten, R. Photo: Xeni Jardin.

I traveled to Santa Barbara this week to observe the Santa Barbara Tibet Summit, and the creation of a Tibetan sand mandala under the direction of Ven. lama Lobsang Samten.

Above, a short video I shot yesterday on my iPhone in which Samten explains some of the history and symbolism behind the "Wheel of Life" mandala, which is based in a very old tradition but also encompasses some newer creative elements.

It was a beautiful thing to see and hear, over the course of days. The chakpur, those conical metal tools you see in the video that they use to "paint" with the sand, make a raspy percussive rhythmic sound. It's hypnotic. When you can hear that you've achieved just the right pace and rhythm with that sound, one monk said, you know your mind has reached a meditative state of emptiness, and that is where you're supposed to be when you are creating the mandala.

The environment was reverent but there was also some goofing around, as evidenced in the photo below, in which Ven. Thepo Rinpoche takes an iPad snapshot of Samten's head. Yes, some monks carry iPads and iPhones and other gadgets, and they sometimes use them in interesting ways.

"His bald head is a mandala!" Thepo-la said as he snapped the picture. And then they both cracked up.

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Tibetan teen dies before immolation protest, leaves note for Dalai Lama’s return

The pro-Tibetan sovereignty news site phayul.com reports that Jigjey Kyab, 17, was found dead this week due to suspected self-poisoning, just before a planned self-immolation. The teen doused himself with kerosene and was carrying two lighters in his hands. His body was recovered from a busy street in his home town in the Luchu region of eastern Tibet.

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Santa Barbara Summit for Tibet, Jan. 19–26, 2013

If you're in Southern California, here's a week-long event well worth checking out. Starting this weekend, The Santa Barbara Summit for Tibet (SBST) is hosting a "Tibetan Cultural Week of Celebration and Education to increase awareness in our city of the Tibetan culture’s philosophical and spiritual richness, as well as the challenges it faces."

Here's a schedule of events, all of which are free to the public.

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Art for Tibet IV: auction in NYC to benefit Students for a Free Tibet, Dec. 1st, 2012

Kylin, "Dtsi Legomandala," combining the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practice of creating and ritualistically dismantling ornate sand mandalas with the contemporary medium of LEGO.

On December 1st, 2012, 6pm-9pm, Tibet House in New York is hosting a silent art auction featuring live music performances, and bidding on art by a number of different artists to benefit Students for a Free Tibet.

Ryan McGinness, Mark Borthwick, Sasquatch 23, Michael Avedon, Bwana Spoons, Kenji Hitara, Cody Hudson, Rostarr, Kiino Villand, and Shepard Fairey (work shown at left) are among the artists represented.

For those who can't attend in person, you can participate via the online auction. Online bidding is now open.

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Two dozen Tibetans have set themselves on fire this month, in protest of Chinese rule

At least 24 ethnic Tibetans have burned themselves alive this month alone, in "a dramatic acceleration of the protests against authoritarian Chinese rule," and "a new phase in the Tibetan protests," according to the AP. Close to 100 have self-immolated since 2009, but what's different, in addition to the sheer numbers, is that most self-immolators now are lay people, not monks or nuns.

China won't permit human rights monitors in Tibet, because hey, come on, nothing bad is going on there, you guys

At least 68 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since March 2011 in protest against Chinese rule over Tibetan regions; 56 have died. Despite this, Reuters reports that a government official said today that China "will not allow foreign observers into restive Tibet to probe human rights abuses... dismissing mounting international pressure for an independent investigation in the troubled mountainous region."

Tibetan exiles' "Gangnam Style" video pokes fun at China's Xi Jinping during CCP's 18th congress

Tendor from Students for a Free Tibet says,

We're releasing this parody video titled, "Tibetans Challenge Xi Jinping - Gangnam Style." On the eve of China's leadership transition, amid the wave of Tibetan self-immolations, we felt we needed to inject a little humor and hope into an otherwise terrifying situation.

Video Link, more about the campaign here. The group's press release about the video, below.

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Improving the Tibetan dung-stove with wire coat-hangers


Liz To has designed a coat-hanger-based disassemblable stove for Tibetan nomads who cook indoors. It's a clever way of recycling one of the more pernicious waste products of western society (coat hangers) and relieving one of the worst health problems faced by Tibetan nomads (indoor pollution from dung fires). Apart from the rather unfortunate orthography (it's called "thab." -- all lower case, with a superfluous period), this is just great.

thab. is designed for Tibetan Nomads who live and cook inside tents. For cooking, they usually use the three stone cooking method however that causes health issues. They use yak dung as their cooking fuels.

They often boil water or soup therefore thab. must be strong, durable, efficient, safe and inexpensive.

Tibetan Nomads travel from one place to another every few months therefore thab. is designed to be disassembled so it can be portable.

thab. - designed by liz (Thanks, Avi!)

Two more Tibetan teens die in self-immolations, protesting Chinese rule

Lobsang Kalsang, an 18-year-old monk, and Damchoek, a 17-year-old former monk, set themselves on fire on Monday morning near Kirti Monastery in Aba county, in the Tibetan region. This brings the number of Tibetans who have set themselves on fire since 2009 to 51. (BBC News)

New reports of Tibetans burning themselves alive to protest Chinese opression

Multiple sources: Two (possibly three) more Tibetans self-immolated in protest of Chinese military rule in Tibet. The two confirmed cases involve men in their early twenties, monks in Tibet's Ngaba region.

As of August 8, 45 more Tibetans have resorted to self-immolation inside Tibet, 35 of whom have died, according to the International Campaign for Tibet. The incidents on Monday would bring the total number of self-immolations since February 2009 to 48. Tibetans in exile have also resorted to self-immolation.

CNN, VOA, Phayul, TCHRD.

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.

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China wants to name Dalai Lama's successor. Dalai Lama: "LOL!"

Snip from a Globe and Mail article quoting HH the Dalai Lama: “It is quite strange – as non-believers, totally non-believers, atheists – showing interest about reincarnation. I jokingly tell them: In order to be involved in my reincarnation, firstly, they should accept Buddhism. Or religion. Or Buddhism. Then they should recognize Chairman Mao Zedong’s reincarnation. Deng Xiaopeng’s reincarnation. Then, they have reason to show some interest about the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. Otherwise, nonsense!” (via @markkersten)

China detains Tibetans returning from Buddhist festival, arrests devotee who sees vision of Dalai Lama in the Moon

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks during a teaching session on the first day of the Kalachakra festival in the eastern Indian city of Bodhgaya January 1, 2012. The Kalachakra is a 10-day festival comprising Buddha teachings and meditations, taking place at Bodhgaya where Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash

Ed Wong in the New York Times writes about reports that hundreds of Tibetan Buddhists who attended the Kalachakra ceremony in January in India have been detained without charge by Chinese security officers upon returning to China-controlled Tibet.

This is the first time that the Chinese authorities have detained large numbers of Tibetan pilgrims returning from the ceremony, held regularly in India among other places. Many of the pilgrims are elderly and have been detained for more than two months in central Tibet, or what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region. The detainees are being interrogated and undergoing patriotic re-education classes, and have been ordered to denounce the Dalai Lama, who presided over the ceremony, known as the Kalachakra, say people who have researched the detentions. The detainees are being held at hotels, schools and military training centers or bases; some are being forced to pay for their lodging and meals.

Full story is here (via NgawangYonten).

Meanwhile, the desperate protest-suicides continue. 33 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest of Chinese rule since 2009, according to the Tibetan government in exile. And on April 8, a 26 year old Tibetan man in India jumped to his death in the river Ganges, a few days after texting to a friend, “It is my personal decision... Free Tibet.” According to reports, Dhondup Phuntsok was wearing a ‘Free Tibet' t-shirt.

“Ruby di, sorry I lied actually I want to do it myself and it is my personal decision whatsoever the consequences maybe tonight,” Dhondup Phuntsok texted Ruby of Ganasamnnay, an Indian organisation that works for Tibetan refugees. “This is just me and myself. I will delete all the phone numbers from my cell so that no one gets disturbed if I am caught in this act…Free Tibet,” Dhondup Phuntsok wrote.

“I want to tell my people that writing free Tibet at the gate of the consulate is a better way to protest than self-immolating oneself,” Dhonduo Phuntsok further wrote.

And today, news that China is punishing devotees who see visions of the Dalai Lama in the moon.

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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.

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Two more Tibetan women die in self-immolation protests against Chinese rule

The deaths this weekend of two Tibetan women bring the total number of Tibetans who have set themselves on fire in western China since March 2011 to at least 24. More than 16 are said to have died, in desperate acts of protest against oppression by Chinese authorities.

On Sunday, Rinchen, 32-year-old widow and mother of three, self-immolated in front of Kirti Monastery. On Saturday, 19-year-old Tsering Kyi burned herself alive in a vegetable market in Gansu province. She was a middle school student.

More: New York Times, Radio Free Asia, Free Tibet, Phayul, and a second item on Phayul. In related news, a young Tibetan monk who earlier burned himself has died, while another has had all four limbs amputated, and has reportedly received abuse from Chinese doctors in the hospital where he is being treated.

Photo: Monks gather outside a temple during Tibetan New Year celebrations in Langmusixiang, Sichuan Province February 22, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

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.

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Video from inside a Tibetan community under lockdown, as self-immolations continue

The Guardian's Asia correspondent Jonathan Watts sneaks into Aba, a remote town on the Tibetan plateau, and captures this video report of how Chinese authorities are trying to stamp out dissent among ethnic Tibetans through military security, propaganda and forced 're-education.'

More context and links at the NYT Lede blog. A BBC News crew attempted to make the same trek, and were repeatedly harassed by Chinese forces. Video here, includes graphic shots of self-immolations.

Today, the latest in an ongoing string of Tibetan self-immolation protests against Chinese policies: a 19-year-old Tibetan monk set himself on fire in the same Sichuan province town where the Guardian video was captured.

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Two Tibetans shot dead, another self-immolation, as China's dissent crackdown continues

Radio Free Asia reports that a 40-year-old Tibetan monk and his 38-year-old brother in Sichuan province were shot by authorities today, after participating protests against Chinese rule and calling for the return of the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

"The two brothers had been on the run for more than two weeks, and had been hiding in the hills in a nomad region when they were surrounded and fired upon."

In related news, yet another Tibetan monk is reported to have set himself on fire on Wednesday. Phayul identifies the monk here; it is not known whether he survived. A source who knows him describes him as “a kind and humble person who used to enjoy looking after pigeons."

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Three Tibetan herders burn themselves alive in protest

The crisis among ethnic Tibetans in Sichuan Province continues: "three livestock herders set themselves on fire to protest what they saw as political and religious repression at the hands of the Chinese authorities," reports the New York Times, bringing the total number of such self-immolations over the past year to 19, "an unprecedented wave of self-inflicted violence among the tiny ethnic minority in China."

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).

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Exiled Tibetans hold memorial for self-immolators protesting Chinese military rule

Photo: David Huang

This morning, a demonstration took place in McLeod Ganj, a quiet Northern Indian village adjacent to the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. In this town on the southern end of the Himalayas, young Tibetan exiles staged a memorial for Tibetans inside China-controlled Tibet who have burned themselves alive in recent months.

11 have self-immolated since February 2009. Most are teenagers or in their early twenties. The youngest was 17. It is an expression of despair, and an act of protest against increasingly harsh Chinese military crackdown on ethnic Tibetan cultural, religious, and social systems. For a list of the names, dates, and locations, read on (and there is more background at standupfortibet.org).

The demonstration was organized by Students for a Free Tibet and Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, Dharamsala.

Oxblood Ruffin was at the demonstration. He tells Boing Boing,

It was a very moving demonstration. Young monks carried a graphic banner with flames in the background and the text, Tibetans are dying for freedom. They were accompanied by demonstrators wearing masks of world leaders.

It would be a little dramatic to say things have come to a head. But there's a definite shift, and I suspect that the recent spate of self-immolations will continue. The desperation is palpable, and there seems to be a sense of, "What have we got to lose?"

The Chinese are playing this off as though the Dalai Lama is running around with a lighter and inciting the monks to kill themselves. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Tibetans are very depressed about what's going on. But their is a quiet respect for what the monks have done. It's viewed as the supreme sacrifice for the Tibetan people.

Below, photos, and a press release issued today by organizers.

Photo: David Huang

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Nun becomes ninth Tibetan to self-immolate as protest against Chinese military repression

Tenzin Wangmo, a 20-year-old nun from Dechen Chokorling Nunnery in Tibet, is the ninth Tibetan to commit self-immolation since March, and the fifth of those to die. They are protesting repression by Chinese security forces. More at Free Tibet.