Why People Set Themselves on Fire to Protest China

In an effort to understand the cause of the recent surge of self-immolations by Tibetans, CBS News interviews a young Tibetan man living in Tongren (Rebkong), the site of recent protests, and Tibet scholar Robert Barnett:

Robert Barnett heads the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University in New York. He says the protests in the Tibetan plateau have changed in recent months.

“It’s now involving significant numbers of people,” Barnett tells CBS News. “It’s spreading gradually from a core area to a slightly wider area of the Tibetan plateau, and it’s spreading among social classes. It is no longer just monks and nuns. It’s now spreading to villagers, to older people, to students who are protesting.”

Tenzin says resentment has built up in Tibetan communities as reforms implemented by the government in Beijing encourage Tibetans to forget their language, history and culture. He says the ethnic Han Chinese newcomers fail to understand or respect the Tibetans’ connection to the land.

Instead of lessons about Rebkong’s rich local history, he says students are taught “propaganda” about the Communist Party. “As a result we have become brainwashed. We are becoming less brave and less willing to tell the truth.”

In an example of the curriculum Tenzin is referring to, the South China Morning Post recently reported that the government had kicked off a campaign in Tibetan schools to teach children “awareness of national territory”:

Local authorities in Tibet have kicked off a campaign aimed at boosting public “awareness of national territory and education”, holding a celebratory event at a Lhasa primary school, state media reported earlier this week.

Photos of the event published by the Xinhua News Agency showed young students saluting the Chinese national flag during a flag-raising ceremony in the school’s courtyard.

“This is Tibet, this is Hong Kong and this is Taiwan,” the China News quoted a group of young students as they studied a map of China and learnt about its “proper usage” during a class.

According to the reports, the campaign hopes to strengthen awareness amongst students, the community and the media regarding affairs of national territory and identity.

Authorities are also taking harsher measures against self-immolators and their supporters. MaryKay Magistad reports for The World:

Read more about recent self-immolations via CDT.


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