First, as an example of the way Beijing continually loses PR battles with everyone else on this planet:
A state-run Chinese website has launched a bitter attack on the Dalai Lama, accusing the exiled Buddhist leader of “Nazi” racial policies and of inciting Tibetans to set themselves on fire.
The website, set up in 2000 to present the government’s perspective on Tibet, accused the Dalai Lama of instigating the self-immolations and advocating Nazi racial segregation ideas.
It said the Dalai Lama had encouraged people to self-immolate because he called on Tibetans not to celebrate Losar, the Tibetan New Year, in February to remember those who have set themselves on fire.
The Chinese website was critical of the Dalai Lama’s comments that government policies, including the increased use of the Chinese language in Tibetan schools and the migration of ethnic Han Chinese into Tibetan areas, were eroding Tibetan culture.
“The Dalai Lama still treats himself as the serf owner, Tibet as his property and Tibetan people as his slaves,” it said.
“The remarks of the Dalai Lama remind us of the uncontrolled and cruel Nazi during the Second World War. … How similar it is to the Holocaust committed by Hitler on the Jewish!” the commentary said in criticizing the Dalai Lama’s call for high levels of autonomy for Tibetan areas.
This will play well with the hard-core nationalists inside China, but the authorities really would be well to be reminded that the rest of the world can hear you when you compare one of the most beloved people on Earth to Hitler. Great job guys!
Tom Lasseter visited Rebkong, where two self-immolations and a series of protests have taken place over the last two weeks:
Two ethnic Tibetan men set themselves on fire here last week in protest of Chinese government policies that locals say repress their religion, culture and language. The beefed-up security presence was part of the usual response of crackdowns and threats.
That hard-knuckled style has not halted an unprecedented chain of self-immolations. In fact, the gruesome protests are spreading.
At least 29 ethnic Tibetans have set themselves on fire in the past year, according to rights groups that track the events. Of those, 22 reportedly died.
So far, the Chinese Communist Party’s customary carrot-and-stick strategy of big-money projects — billions of dollars have been spent on infrastructure in Tibetan areas — balanced by authoritarian tactics and propaganda hasn’t quelled the unrest. Tibetans say it isn’t likely to, without fundamental change in the government approach.
“If they gave us more freedom there probably wouldn’t be more self-immolations,” said a 37-year-old businessman who lives at the outskirts of Tongren.
Speaking on Tuesday, the man said that two days earlier he’d tried to drive into town only to be turned back by police. It’d been a day since the latest self-immolation and he figured the roads would be open.
“They weren’t letting Tibetans in,” said the man, who like everyone else interviewed asked that his name not be used, for fear of official retaliation. “The police said, ‘You can’t come in now, you should come back in three or four days.'”
Confronted by police from China’s dominant Han ethnic group telling him he couldn’t enter a majority ethnic Tibetan town, the businessman said, he had no choice other than to grit his teeth and turn around.
“It was difficult to accept,” he said.
Instead of addressing those underlying issues when faced with self-immolations or street protests, ethnic Tibetans say, the Communist Party and its government only increase levels of surveillance and harassment.
“We don’t dare speak about these things because as soon as we do, the police will take us away,” said a 37-year-old monk from the Rongwo monastery in Tongren.
As he spoke those words, an ethnic Tibetan woman listening to the conversation broke into tears.
On March 17, a man described as a farmer in his 40s named Sonam Thargyal, reportedly a friend of Palden, self-immolated nearby. After his death, a large group of mourners — numbering in the hundreds, if not more — carried his body in a procession-cum-protest that ended with his remains being cremated.
Although he was speaking in a teahouse with no obvious security presence, the monk on Wednesday said that he had to be careful.
“It’s very difficult now for monks from Rongwo monastery to come outside,” he said. “There are cameras watching where we go, and later on they will of course ask us where we went.”
Asked whom he meant by “they,” the monk would not answer. He said only that life at the monastery hasn’t been comfortable lately.
“If we were not in pain, we would not be setting ourselves on fire,” he said.
Before leaving, the man said he would try to arrange a meeting with friends of the two men who’d self-immolated in Tongren. The next day, he sent a text message saying it wouldn’t be possible after all: “The police might be arresting people in secret, many people are feeling a bit panicked.”
Finally, a quick piece from an AP story on where these self-immolations are coming from:
Until the 1990s, China’s most repressive policies were concentrated on the official Tibetan Autonomous Region, with Tibetans living to the east, in Sichuan and Qinghai, given freer reign. When protests shook Lhasa in the 1980s, they barely touched Sichuan.
“These areas had not been part of a Tibetan state for centuries, and were outside the administration of the old Tibetan government, yet now we often hear of people there raising the Tibetan flag or calling for freedom for Tibet,” Robert Barnett, a professor of modern Tibetan history at Columbia University, said in an email.
“It’s not that these people are radical, it is that China’s policies, especially since its decision in the 1990s to insult the Dalai Lama and to treat monasteries as threats, has turned a formerly complex Tibetan cultural sphere into a relatively unified sphere of political dissent.”
The trouble began in the late 1990s, as a divide between Beijing and Tibetans began growing over the Panchen Lama, the second-highest Tibetan religious leader. In 1995, the Dalai Lama named a 6-year-old boy as the reincarnated Panchen Lama. But the boy and his family soon disappeared, and Beijing gave another boy the title.
In Tibet, where monasteries often serve encompassing roles — school, cultural center, home to the sons of local families who have become monks — Beijing’s moves created a bitter cycle of revolt and repression, with Tibetan protests leading to ever-more official interference, which in turn sparked more protests.
Aba now looks like an occupied town.