“Untitled”, a cartoon by @hexiefarm
High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written in April 2014 for the Mandarin service of Radio Free Asia and published on her blog on April 30, 2014.
As noted before, Woeser has been a prolific and consistent
commentator on the ongoing self-immolations in Tibet and this is piece
can be seen as a follow up to her posts “Why do Tibetans Self-Immolate” and “Self-Immolations Are A Kind of Political Resistance”.
“Analysing Two Self-Immolation Peak Times to Understand What Tibetan People Want”
Looking back at the past 5 years that began with the self-immolation
of monk Tapey of Kirti Monastery in Ngaba Prefecture on February 27,
2009, we see that in November 2012, self-immolations were most frequent,
involving 28 men and women, young and old, monks and nuns, and many
herdsmen. In March of the same year, 11 people self-immolated, including
6 monks as well as a middle-school pupil and his parents.
Why did the number of self-immolations peak during those two months?
It is because the month of March has for many years been a “sensitive
month” in Tibet, full of “sensitive days”; there is March 5, the
commemoration day of the suppression of the 1989 Lhasa protests; there
is March 10, the anniversary of the “Tibetan National Uprising Day” in
1959; there is March 14, the anniversary of the 2008 Tibetan protests;
there is March 16, the commemoration day of people from Ngaba being shot
dead in 2008; finally, there is March 28, the anniversary of the
so-called “Serf Liberation Day” that the Chinese government introduced
in 2009. Every year, when it comes to March, the local authorities are
especially cautious. Indeed, many protests have been carried out during
this month. The peak of self-immolations was also March 2012, precisely
during those “sensitive days”. 11 Tibetans used self-immolation as a way
to express their strongest opposition against the aggressors.
November 2012, on the other hand, was exactly the time of the 18th
National Congress of the CCP, producing a new generation of Party
leaders. Out of the 28 people that self-immolated in November, 9
actually did during the 8 days of the Party meeting. It was more or less
one per day, which illustrates that Tibetans hoped to be able to
influence the Tibet policies of this new generation of leaders, turning
self-immolations into a movement promoting change. Recognising this is
important in understanding the motivations behind the self-immolations.
The formation of a self-immolation movement has been considered the
“most powerful wave of political protest of modern times” and this
despite the fact that self-immolation as a form of protest was never
common in Tibetan history. Just like the 2008 protests, self-immolations
were started and led by monks. Monk Tapey from Kirti Monastery who
self-immolated in February 2009 was the first case within Tibet; the
following 12 self-immolators were also monks or former monks who had
been expelled from their monasteries by local authorities. Only in
December 2012, the first case of a lay person self-immolating occurred.
Out of the 20 self-immolations in the first quarter of 2012, 15 were
monks. But during the second and third quarters, the number was already
dominated by lay people. At the beginning of 2014, 2 out of so-far 6
self-immolations (as of late April) were committed by lay people. Until
today, out of all 135 self-immolations, 47 cases involved monks and
nuns, but all others were common people from different stratums of
Tibetan society, including 67 herdsmen. It becomes very obvious that
more and more ordinary people are throwing themselves into the
As someone recording all self-immolation incidents, whenever I am
interviewed by foreign media, I always emphasise: self-immolations must
never be called suicide, they are sacrifice! These kinds of
self-immolations cannot be judged using Buddhist precepts, they are a
result of today’s secular politics. These flames that rise high into the
air again and again are ignited by the oppression of a people, they are
lighting up the torch of the dark Tibet, they are the continuation of
the 2008 protests, they are the continuation of what the monk from Sera
monastery, the first one to bravely step forward, said: “We must stand
up”! In other words, self-immolations in Tibet are a very clear form of
political protest, they are nothing but that.
Whoever uses Buddhist precepts to reduce Tibetan self-immolations to
suicide or even “killing”, is either ignorant or an accomplice of the
Chinese government. An accomplished monk once said with regards to this:
“Tibetan self-immolations do not at all violate the Buddhist doctrine
of forbidding the killing of any life, neither do they conflict with the
Buddhist worldview and even less can they be seen as breaking religious
orders. This is because the motivation for these self-immolations does
not show the slightest trace of self-interest or personal gain… their
goal is to protect and maintain Buddhism, and to fight for the freedom
and benefit of the Tibetan people”, they fundamentally reflect the
“Bodhisattva’s way of sacrificing oneself for the benefit of others”,
they are the phoenix rising from the ashes.
Originally posted at http://highpeakspureearth.com/2014/analysing-two-self-immolation-peak-times-to-understand-what-tibetan-people-want-by-woeser/ and republished in TPR with permission.
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