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.
Wife of imprisoned Tibetan filmmaker to deliver birthday cards to China Consulate in SF, Wed., Oct. 9, 2013
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.Read the rest
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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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 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.
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.'
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.
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."
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.
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).
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).
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