“Tibetans in China seek fiery way out of despair”

Reuters has been nosing around Tibetan areas and come out with a lot of quotes, which makes a nice contrast with the “well, the Dalai Lama says one thing and the Chinese government says another, so… maybe the truth is in the middle?!” laziness of certain other media outlets:

The Ganden Jangchup Choeling Nunnery stands hidden from view on an isolated mountain-top in southwestern China, accessible only by a twisting, rocky road. It was here, in a mud-brick hut, that Palden Choetso lived.

The 35-year-old Tibetan Buddhist nun burned herself to death on a public street an hour’s drive away earlier this month, the latest in a string of self-immolations to protest against Chinese religious controls over Tibet.

“She had drunk several jin of gasoline,” a senior religious figure at the nunnery told Reuters, referring to a traditional weight of measure that is about half a kilogram. “We got a call that she had set herself on fire, and a few of us went down to try to save her. But it was too late.”

Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher on China for Human Rights Watch, said that his interviews and reports among the monastic communities suggest that tensions are worse now than in March 2008, when deadly riots against the Chinese presence spread across Tibetan regions ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

“So far, the escalation and the rise in tensions is unprecedented,” he said. “One of the main concerns of the government is they don’t exactly know how to respond to this.”

“Normally they rely on fear and intimidation,” Bequelin said. “But how do you intimidate people who are ready to set themselves on fire?”

Most of the people who Reuters spoke to in three Tibetan towns in Ganzi prefecture approved of the grisly act.

“I think they are all heroes,” said a woman shopkeeper selling Tibetan religious artwork in the heavily Tibetan town of Danba, giving the “thumbs up” as she spoke. “The central government says our policies on the Tibetans are good. But all they do is suppress the Tibetan people.”

“There will be more. This is just the beginning,” she said. “There’s no other way out.”

A monk at the Jingang Temple in Kangding town concurred: “Many Tibetans support it, and I support it too. They gave up their lives for the Tibetan race.”

The Karmapa Lama, ranked third in the hierarchy of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama, appealed last week for Tibetans not to set themselves on fire, saying he hoped they would find more constructive ways to advance their cause.

The self-immolations have been concentrated in Ganzi and the neighboring Aba prefecture. Most residents are Tibetan herders and farmers, many of whom have long resented Chinese rule.

“This was not far from the areas where the first big battles began against the Chinese in the mid-1950s,” Barnett said. “These are people who are not easily pushed around, especially now when their religious institutions are being interfered with in a way that is not seen by them as justifiable.”

All the monks who were interviewed by Reuters spoke of decades of “patriotic re-education” campaigns, during which they are forced to pledge allegiance to the Communist Party and occasionally denounce the Dalai Lama.

In Daofu, where monks have been jailed for “splittist” activities, they say they live in fear of the police and are wary of arrest. All of them asked that their names not be used.

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Filed under ethnic conflict, intimidation, Tibet

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