The Phantom Jasmine Emerging from the Blazing Flame–Profiles of the successive self-immolation incidents in Tibet (Part 3)

Published:2013/2/15    08:00

(By the True Heart News interviewing team in Taipei) Since 2008, waves of self-immolation incidents have occurred one after another in Tibet. The backgrounds and motivations of these incidents are rather complex; the immolators’ personal experiences and psychological conditions, as well as economic, social, ethnical, religious, or even political factors could all play a part. On 29 June, 2012, the Dalai Lama spoke in Milan, Italy and stated that “These sad events are evidently not taking place because the concerned individuals have family problems. The Chinese authorities must investigate what the cause is, what's provoking such desperate acts.” Was the Dalai Lama not playing innocent and pretending to be unaware of what provoked these radical acts, especially when so many Tibetan youth were shouting the political slogans his regime had long propagandized in Tibet while igniting a lighter and collapsing into the blazing flames?

In an article by Nicholas Pierce published in The Daily Reveille, the author starts out by connecting the current Tibetan self-immolation issue with a past political event: “On June 11, 1963, Thich Quang Duc sat quietly on a divan at the corner of a busy Saigon intersection. As a crowd began to gather, Duc …said a quick, barely audible prayer and struck a match--dropping it on his gasoline-soaked saffron robe. …On June 16, the minority Catholic government of South Vietnam caved to Buddhist demands and vowed to stop the persecution of the Buddhist majority and grant freedom of religion for all.… The world reeled as word of Thich Quang Duc’s martyrdom by fire spread across wire. A photograph of Duc’s immolation won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize photojournalism and South Vietnam’s dictatorial president, Ngô Đình Diệm, was toppled within the year.

Pierce then gives his take on the unintended consequence of Thick Quang Duc’s martyrdom by fire: “Thich Quang Duc’s decision to set himself ablaze is seen world over as one of the most politically effective – and emotionally jarring – acts of civil protest committed in the modern age. The problem? It worked too well. Since Duc’s immolation, literally thousands of people have doused themselves inflammable liquids and followed suit. So many have done so that some international organizations are beginning to consider the number of self-immolations to be nearing epidemic proportions.

On December 17, 2010, a 26 year old Tunisian young man Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, sparking large scale pro-democracy demonstrations throughout Tunisia. The incident eventually led to the ousting of then-President Ben Ali and the overthrow of his regime. This was the first revolution in the Arab world that successfully overthrew a current regime by means of civil uprising. As Jasmine is the national flower of Tunisia, the movement has since been referred to as the “Jasmine Revolution.” This Tunisian mode of demonstration was even imitated by people of other Arab countries, such as Algeria and Egypt, and catalyzed a wave of anti-government demonstrations that swept across the entire North Africa and Middle East within a month. Political strongmen and dictators who had been enjoying their rules for decades were disposed of one after another like dominoes. And the waves of revolution subsequently spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain. Other Arab countries, like Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Mauritania, Oman, Morocco, Kuwait, Lebanon and Sudan, and even several non-Arab countries, all felt the impact to different degrees. All experienced outbursts of street protests and demonstrations, even though most of them died down gradually as they were of rather smaller scale or because the governments made concessions.

Lobsang Sangay, successor to the Dalai Lama, is Tibet’s Kalon Tripa, the prime minister of the government in exile; he drew an off-base and self-serving comparison between the self-immolation incidents in Tibet and the “Jasmine Revolution.” He even impudently opined that “Tibetan self-immolation is part of a historical global phenomenon.” U.S. Senator John McCain has also joined his chorus and went as far as to forecast that the "Arab Spring" movement would spread in China. However, regarding the strings of self-immolation incidents of Tibetans, Dibyesh Anand, political science Ph. D. from University of Bristol and professor at Westminster University, who published Tibet: A Victim of Geopolitics in 2009, warned that if things continue this way, some Tibetans in exile will inevitably embark on the route of terrorism. Tibetans will gradually lose their little international support that they have ever won. As Dibyesh wrote in the Guardian, UK: International media will soon lose interest for the repetitive deaths are not newsworthy ("what's new?") and there is no powerful foreign government interested in rocking the Chinese boat.

From a different perspective, Costica Bradatan, an assistant professor of the Honors College at Texas Tech University made the observation that “the self-immolation of a young Tunisian street vendor in 2010 sparked an uprising that spread throughout the Arab world, yet dozens of Tibetan self-immolations have yielded little political result.

Zhang Gongpu, Chairman of the True Enlightenment Education Foundation, comments that these continual self-immolation incidents of Tibetans are themselves tragic and traumatic events. Even if these self-immolators were motivated by their own form of political self-expression, as their spiritual leader and symbol of compassion, the Dalai Lama should not have allowed these tragedies to repeat themselves and continue to escalate.

Chairman Zhang pleas to the Dalai Lama and the officials of the Tibetan government-in-exile to speak up immediately to console and calm down the Tibetans who are alive, deceased, or have been stirred up and about to commit foolish acts, and prevent them from insensibly hurting themselves without bringing any benefits to others. They should not let those Tibetans who are political extremist to “embark on the route of terrorism” or allow the Dalai Lama to become effectively an executioner of Tibetans now and in history. (Reported by the Interviewing Team)

Editor’s Note:

This article is an English version of the Chinese edition published on

November 13, 2012.

Quote 1: The original cited article has been closed. Please refer to the backup screenshot of the original linked webpage as follows: Click here (a copy by using

Quote 2: The original cited article has been closed. Please refer to the backup screenshot of the original linked webpage as follows: Click here (a copy by using

Quote 3: The original cited article has been closed. Please refer to the backup screenshot of the original linked webpage as follows: Click here (a copy by using