Last-words Analysis: Why Do Tibetans Self-immolate?

Following a surge in self-immolations in Tibetan areas in late 2012, authorities cracked down on access to news and information in the region. In recent weeks, the number of self-immolations seems to have slowed, or at least additional incidents have not been reported by the Western press if they have occurred.

Wang Lixiong, a Chinese writer who is married to prominent Tibetan writer Woeser, analyses the final words of many of the self-immolators to try to understand their motivations. He comes up with several motives, which he weights according to how many of the self-immolators referenced them. His essay is translated on Woeser’s blog, Invisible Tibet:

* Self-immolations are actually not out of desperation
Commonly interpreted – including the officials of the Tibetan government-in-exile – that the self-immolations are desperate acts caused by the unbearable conditions, we cannot deny this claim, but it’s only 19%, the weightage falls in the lower part in the seven classifications.

* The self-immolators inside Tibet are not invoking support of the international community
Another widespread view is that the self-immolations are acts of appealing for the attention of the international community. However, except writer Godrup, none of the last-words mentioned this and so this has the least weightage in the list. This reveals that the Tibetans inside Tibet do not actually rely on the international community as people think for granted. In fact, it is the self-immolators outside Tibet (not included in the table above) who seek international support, Jamphel Yeshi mentioned it twice in his last-words and Sherab Tsedor called for international attention for the Tibet crisis. To seek the support of international community has actually always been the main objective of the Tibetans outside Tibet; it is where they focus even today. This is the major difference between the Tibetans in and out of Tibet.

* Protests and demands in the self-immolations are known
19% of the last-words express protests and demands, but while self-immolating, those who shouted slogans like “Let the Dalai Lama return to Tibet”, “Free Tibet”, “Release the 11th Panchen Lama”, “We want language rights” etc, are also expressing protests and demands and thus should also be counted. Besides, majority of the self-immolators, though have not left any last-words, the acts of self-immolations in themselves are acts of protests and demands, this cannot be clearer.

By the end of 2012, close to 100 Tibetans had self-immolated, and many of those had died. Phayul just reported that a ninth grade student in Dharamsala, India, was prevented from lighting himself on fire in November. Read more about the self-immolations via CDT.


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