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Congressional-Executive Commission on China Special Report: Tibetan Self-Immolation/ENG

2012. augusztus 22. /TibetPress/TibetPress


Congressional-Executive Commission on China
Special Report: Tibetan Self-Immolation
Rising Frequency, Wider Spread, Greater Diversity
August 22, 2012

Special Report: Tibetan Self-Immolation
Rising Frequency, Wider Spread, Greater Diversity

The frequency, geographic spread, and diversity of Tibetans who reportedly have committed self-immolation as they called for Tibetan freedom and the Dalai Lama’s return has increased since a December 2011 Commission report. The December report covered 13 self-immolations (8 reported fatal) that occurred from February 2009 to December 2011. All 13 of those self-immolations involved current or former monks or nuns; 12 took place in Sichuan province. Since then, as of August 10, 2012, an additional 33 Tibetans reportedly have committed similar self-immolation protests (29 reported fatal). Of these 33 self-immolations, 13 took place outside Sichuan province and 14 were persons who did not have a monastic background (i.e., laypersons).

The wave of self-immolations is concurrent with increasing Chinese Communist Party and government use of legal measures to repress and control core elements of Tibetan culture,1 and with the failure of the China-Dalai Lama dialogue process to achieve any sign of progress.2 The Party and government have also not indicated any willingness to consider Tibetan grievances in a more constructive manner and to hold themselves accountable for Tibetan rejection of Chinese policies. The Party and government have handled the crisis as a threat to state security and social stability instead of a policy failure.3Note: This report covers the period up to August 10, 2012.

As Self-Immolations Spread and Involve Laypersons, Kirti Monks Less Prevalent

As of August 10, 2012, the total number of reported incidents of Tibetans committing self-immolation since February 2009 in protests focusing on political and religious issues—e.g., Tibetan freedom and the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet—increased to 46 (37 reported fatal) from the 13 incidents (7 reported fatal) listed in a December 2011 Commission report. [See Table and Map below.] This report does not characterize the reported June 27, 2012, Tibetan self-immolation of Dekyi Choezom in Yushu (Yushul) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP), Qinghai province, as political or religious because she committed self-immolation in protest against government expropriation of her family’s property, according to international media and advocacy group reports.4

Self-immolation frequency has increased. Of the 13 Tibetan self-immolation protests that took place from February 2009 to December 2011, 12 of them (8 reported fatal) occurred during the 10-month period March to December 2011. In comparison, 33 self-immolations (29 reported fatal) took place in 2012 as of August 10. [See Table and Map below.]

Self-immolations have spread. The first 12 of the 13 self-immolations that took place from February 2009 to December 2011 occurred in Sichuan province; 1 self-immolation, in December 2011, took place in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). In comparison, of the 33 self-immolations that took place in 2012 as of August 10, 20 took place in Sichuan and 13 took place in other provincial-level areas. [See Table and Map below.] The following summary provides provincial-, prefectural-, and county-level location information for the 33 self-immolations that took place in 2012 as of August 10.

Sichuan province. A total of 20 self-immolations took place in one prefectural-level area: Aba (Ngaba) Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. Thirteen of the 20 self-immolations took place in Aba county; 4 were in Rangtang (Dzamthang) county; and 3 were in Ma’erkang (Barkham) county, the prefectural capital. [See Table and Map below.]

Qinghai province. A total of eight self-immolations took place in a total of four prefectural-level areas. Three self-immolations took place in Huangnan (Malho) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (TAP): two took place in Tongren (Rebgong) county, the prefectural capital, and one was in Jianzha (Chentsa) county. Three self-immolations (excluding the property-related protest of self-immolator Dekyi Choezom mentioned above) took place in Yushu (Yulshul) TAP: all three took place in Chenduo (Tridu) county. One self-immolation took place in Dari (Darlag) county, Guoluo (Golog) TAP. One self-immolation reportedly took place in Tianjun (Themchen) county, Haixi (Tsonub) Mongol and Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture5—a reliable Tibetan-language map, however, indicates that Bongtag Monastery, the reported location of the self-immolation, is in neighboring Wulan county.6[See Table and Map below.]

Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). A total of three self-immolations took place in one prefectural-level area: Lhasa municipality. Two took place in Lhasa city, the TAR capital, and one was in Dangxiong (Damshung county). [See Table and Map below.]

Gansu province. A total of two self-immolations took place in one prefectural-level area: Gannan (Kanlho) TAP. One took place in Hezuo (Tsoe) city, the prefectural capital, and one was in Maqu (Machu) county. [See Table and Map below.]

Kirti prevalence has declined. As the frequency of self-immolations increased and spread geographically, the prevalence of Kirti Monastery monks among self-immolators has decreased. If the total of 46 self-immolations as of August 10, 2012, is divided into halves, then current or former Kirti monks made up 12 of the first 23 self-immolations (February 27, 2009, to February 19, 2012). In comparison, current or former Kirti monks account for 5 of the last 23 self-immolators (March 3 to August 10, 2012). [See Table below.]

Laypersons dominate recent self-immolation. As self-immolation increased and spread geographically, laypersons have taken on a greater role. Once again comparing halves of the 46 total self-immolations as of August 10, 2012, all but 1 of the first 23 self-immolators (February 2009 to February 19, 2012) were current or former monks or nuns—the 23rd self-immolation was the first by a layperson. In comparison, 13 of the last 23 self-immolations (March 3, 2012, to August 10, 2012) were laypersons. Nine of the 13 self-immolations that took place during the period April through August 10, 2012, were laypersons. Self-immolations involving laypersons since April have taken place in Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu, and the TAR. [See Table and Map below.]

Officials Blame Self-Immolations on “the Dalai Clique,” Disparage Self-Immolators

Chinese government and Party officials have not acknowledged the role of Party policy and government legal measures in Tibetan decisions to commit self-immolation. Officials have blamed self-immolations on the Dalai Lama and organizations and individuals the Party associates with him (“the Dalai Clique”).7 On January 12, 2012, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman asserted that the self-immolations “were organized, premeditated and instigated by overseas groups and people.”8 Speaking to European Union officials on December 29, 2011, Zhu Weiqun, Executive Deputy Head of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department9 (UFWD) and Director of the Party’s General Office of the Central Coordinating Group for Tibet Affairs10blamed the Dalai Lama directly for the self-immolations and told the EU officials to expect no change in Chinese government policies on Tibetan issues:

The Dalai Lama wants to turn Tibetan Buddhism into a religion of suiciders and self-immolators in order to serve his own politica purpose. . . . I want to frankly tell all my friends here that if these incidents continue to occur the Chinese government will not change its policies and principles for the work in Tibet or its attitude toward combating the Dalai clique.11

Chinese officials and media have attempted to discredit some of the self-immolators—and by extension, the basis for their suicides—by describing them or their deaths in pejorative terms including terrorist, 12 criminal,13 and copy-cat.14 A November 2011 Xinhua article described self-immolations as “brutal and terrorist acts in disguise,”15 and a March 2012 Xinhua report asserted that by “instigating” Tibetans to commit self-immolation, “the Dalai Lama clique” showed willingness to “use terrorism to reach their objectives.”16 The same March report alleged that “a number of the self-immolators were “secularized monks with criminal records.” In June 2012, for example, Xinhua reported on two former monks who attempted self-immolation: one allegedly had stolen a “golden Buddha statute [sic]” from a monastery and the other allegedly had stolen money from a relative.17 The same Xinhua report featured a psychologist stating, “Teenagers aged 18–22 and the stressed are the most prone to copycat suicides as they are impulsive and lack self-control.”

Policies, Legal Measures, Stalled Dialogue May Influence Self-Immolators’ Decisions

International media and advocacy groups continued to report that as self-immolators burned they shouted anti-government slogans and called for Tibetan freedom (or independence) and the Dalai Lama’s return.18 The consistency of the reports, if they are accurate, indicates that Tibetan self-immolators rejected the outlook for the Tibetan culture under Party policy and government legal measures. Based on Commission analysis, several factors and trends that developed or worsened following Tibetan political protests that began in March 2008 may have contributed to the environment that influences Tibetan decisions to self-immolate. Examples of such factors and trends include:

Government failure to implement the PRC Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (REAL) in a manner that provides local ethnic autonomous governments the “right to administer their internal affairs”—as guaranteed in the REAL’s Preamble;19

Erosion or elimination of future potential for ethnic autonomy as the Party and government promote demographic transformation [see Box on Zhu Weiqun below];20

Deteriorating outlook for the Tibetan culture, language, and environment as the government continues to prioritize development initiatives that accelerate infrastructure construction and resource exploitation;21

Steepening decline since 2007 in the status of religious freedom for Tibetan Buddhists resulting from national-, provincial-, and prefectural-level government regulation of the religion;22

Ongoing security crackdowns and enforced “education” campaigns that pressure Tibetans to accept policies and regulations that Tibetans resent, but officials say “uphold [the] normal order of Tibetan Buddhism,” safeguard “social stability,” and foster a “harmonious society;”23

Lack of hope that Party officials will resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s envoys and engage in substantive discussions. and24

Zhu Weiqun, in his capacity as UFWD Executive Deputy Head (or Deputy Head prior to 2006
25), served as a principal interlocutor in the dialogue between Party officials and the Dalai Lama’s representatives starting in the 2003 second round26 through the ninth and most recent round in January 2010.27 The period of time since the ninth round—more than two-and-one-half years—is the longest without a formal meeting since dialogue resumed in 2002.28 On June 1, 2012, the Dalai Lama’s envoys, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, reportedly resigned their positions as Special Envoy and Envoy respectively and noted “the deteriorating situation inside Tibet since 2008 leading to the increasing cases of self-immolations by Tibetans.”29

Zhu Weiqun: Retirement of A Tibet Policy Hardliner, Not Necessarily of the Hard Line

According to a Hong Kong newspaper, Zhu Weiqun is retiring30—an expected development based on his age (he turns 65 in 2012),31 his membership in the 16th and 17th Communist Party Central Committees (2002-2012),32 and the approach of the 18th Party Congress that will select a new Central Committee.33 Zhu’s prominence as an exponent of harsh Party policies toward Tibetan political, Zhu was a Central Committee member during all of the rounds of dialogue in which he participated from 2003–2010.
Zhu’s prominence as an exponent of harsh Party policies toward Tibetan political,34 religious,35 and ethnic36 aspirations has been more apparent after the 2008 Tibetan protests, when the Party leadership strengthened its capacity throughout Tibetan autonomous areas37 to coordinate and implement policy.38 For example, when China Directory 2009 (published November 2008) included for the first time a list of members of the Central Committee’s Central Coordinating Group for Tibet Affairs (CCGTA), it did not list Zhu Weiqun as a member.39 China Directory 2010 (published November 2009), however, recorded for the first time a CCGTA General Office and listed Zhu Weiqun as Director.40 China Directory 2010 also showed that the number of CCGTA members ranked as a deputy head increased from one to three.41
The Dalai Lama’s envoys arrived in China in January 2010 for the ninth and most recent round of dialogue—with Zhu as their main interlocutor—less than a week after the Party’s Fifth Tibet Work Forum (Fifth Forum).42 With the entire Standing Committee of the Political Bureau in attendance, the Fifth Forum for the first time expanded the Party’s Tibetan policy purview beyond the administrative boundaries of the TAR to include the Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties located in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces,43 and applied the highest imprimatur of political power to achieving sweeping policy objectives throughout the Tibetan areas of China by 2020.44
Zhu’s statements since the Fifth Forum on issues such as the China-Dalai Lama dialogue,
45 Tibetan Buddhist monastic affairs,46 and ethnic minority rights47—likely made with some level of acceptance from CCGTA leaders and members48—underscore Party resolve to transform core elements of Tibetan culture to conform with Party objectives.
In a February 13, 2012, Study Times article, Zhu advocated for ethnic “amalgamation” and advised that development initiatives should promote and make “irreversible” the trend toward “mixed habitation” of ethnic groups.49 Zhu described himself as “personally predisposed” to removing ethnic information from household registration (hukou) cards,50 “desegregating” education (i.e., assimilating ethnic minority students into Chinese-language educational programs and ending minority-language education programs),51 and not establishing any additional areas with ethnic autonomous status.52
On February 23, the Chinese Association of Ethnic Theory Research convened a symposium under the auspices of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) to discuss “current hot-button ethnic theoretical and practical issues.”53 The group posted on the CASS Web site a summary of symposium views. Referring to a “leading cadre”—likely directed at Zhu Weiqun—the summary warned that turning away from “the basic [ethnic autonomy] system and policy” could “easily lead to ideological chaos and thereby cause a negative impact on society.”54 The article warned of increasing risks posed by the declining status of ethnic minority affairs:

The blind spot in knowledge, the erroneous zone in education, and the deficiency in mutual trust, which can be seen everywhere across the ethnic spectrum in today’s China, are turning gradually into a social governance tragedy.55

Based on Commission analysis, the 46 Tibetan self-immolation protests (37 reported fatal) known or believed to focus on political and religious issues as of August 10, 2012, demonstrate an unprecedented level of intensity in Tibetan rejection of Chinese governance. [See Table and Map below.]

(Instances Reported or Believed To Involve Political or Religious Protest)

No. Date of Self-Immo Name Sex /Approx. Age Occupation Affiliation Self-Immolation Location Prov. / Pref./ County Status
1 February 27 Tashi (Tabe) M /24 Monk
Kirti Monastery
Sichuan/ Aba T&QAP/ Aba county Detained in hospital56
2 March 16 Phuntsog
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased57
3 August 15 Tsewang Norbu
Nyitso Monastery
Sichuan/ Ganzi TAP/ Daofu county Deceased58
September 26 Lobsang Kalsang,
Lobsang Konchog
both M/18
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Both hospitalized59
6 October 3 Kalsang Wangchug
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Hospitalized60
October 7 Choephel, M/19
Khayang, M/18
Former monks
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Both deceased61
9 October 15 Norbu Dradul
Former monk
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased62
10 October 17 Tenzin Wangmo
Dechen Choekorling Nunnery
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased63
11 October 25 Dawa Tsering
Gepheling Monastery
Sichuan/ Ganzi TAP/ Ganzi county Hospitalized then released64
12 November 3 Palden Choetso (Choesang)
Gaden Choeling Nunnery
Sichuan/ Ganzi/ Daofu Deceased65
13 December 1 Tenzin Phuntsog
Householder (father)
(former monk, Karma Monastery)
TAR/ Changdu prefecture/ Changdu county Deceased66
January 6 Tsultrim,
both M/about 20
Current or former monks
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased67
16 January 8 Sonam Wanggyal (Zoepa)
Dungkyob Monastery
Qinghai/ Guoluo TAP/ Dari county Deceased68
17 January 14 Lobsang Jamyang
Former monk
Andu Monastery
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased69
18 February 8 Rigzin Dorje
Former monk
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased70
19 February 9 Sonam Rabyang
Lab Monastery
Qinghai/ Yushu TAP/ Chenduo county Hospitalized71
20 February 11 Tenzin Choedron
Dechen Choekorling
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased72
21 February 13 Lobsang Gyatso
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Hospitalized73
22 February 17 Damchoe Zangpo
Bongtag Monastery
Qinghai/ Haixi M&TAP/ Wulan county Deceased74
23 February 19 Nangdrol (Nyadrol)
Layman Sichuan/ Aba/ Rangtang county Deceased75
24 March 3 Tsering Kyi
Middle-school student Gansu/ Gannan TAP/ Maqu county Deceased76
25 March 4 Rinchen
Widowed mother Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased77
26 March 5 Dorje
Layman Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased78
27 March 10 Gepe
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased79
28 March 14 Jamyang Palden
M /34
Rongbo Monastery
Qinghai/ Huangnan TAP/ Tongren county Hospitalized, removed by monks80
29 March 16 Lobsang Tsultrim
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased81
30 March 17 Sonam Dargyal
Farmer (father) Qinghai/ Huangnan / Tongren Deceased82
31 March 28 Sherab (Lobsang Sherab)
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased83
March 30 Tenpa Dargyal, M/22
Chime Palden, M/21
Tsodun Monastery
Sichuan/ Aba/ Ma’erkang county Both deceased84
April 19 Choephag Kyab,
both M/early 20s
Laymen Sichuan/ Aba/ Rangtang Both deceased85
May 27 Dorje Tseten, M/19
Dargye, M/25
Both, restaurant staff
(Dargye: former monk, Kirti)
TAR / Lhasa municipality/ Lhasa city Deceased86
38 May 30 Rikyo (Rechog)
Wife and mother Sichuan/ Aba/ Rangtang Deceased88
39 June 15 Tamdrin Thar
Settled nomad, father Qinghai/ Huangnan/ Jianzha Deceased89
June 20 Tenzin Khedrub, M/24
Ngawang Norphel, M/22
Former monk, Zilkar Monastery
Carpenter (hailed from Rikaze prefecture, TAR)
Qinghai/ Yushu/ Chenduo Both deceased90
42 July 7 Tsewang Dorje
Settled nomad TAR/ Lhasa municipality/ Dangxiong Deceased91
43 July 17 Lobsang Lozin
Tsodun Monastery
Sichuan/ Aba/ Ma’erkang county Deceased92
44 August 6 Lobsang Tsultrim
M/ 21
Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased93
45 August 7 Drolkar Tso
Wife and mother Gansu/ Gannan/ Hezuo Deceased94
46 August 10 Choepa
Nomad Sichuan/ Aba/ Aba Deceased95

Tibetan Self-Immolation (February 27, 2009-August 10, 2012)

The same Xinhua report featured a psychologist stating, “Teenagers aged 18–22 and the stressed are the most prone to copycat suicides as they are impulsive and lack self-control.”


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