On Friday last week, the Liberty Times, the Chinese-language sister publication of the Taipei Times, quoted Radio Free Asia (自由亞洲電台) as saying that the number of Tibetans who had self-immolated in China has now exceeded 100.
In a commentary, Stephanie Brigden, director of the London-based organization Free Tibet, said: “This grim milestone should be a source of shame to the Chinese authorities who are responsible and to the world leaders who have yet to show any leadership in response to the ongoing crisis in Tibet.”
According to the traditional Tibetan calendar, New Year’s Day fell on Feb. 11 this year. For Tibetans, it meant yet another sad new year.
Since 2009, many Tibetans have canceled their New Year’s celebrations in order to commemorate the thousands of Tibetans who were either killed or arrested in a large protest that took place in March 2008.
In addition to canceling New Year celebrations this year, two Tibetans also chose to self-immolate in different places on Wednesday last week — the third day of the Tibetan New Year — to protest Chinese rule over Tibet.
A total of 107 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009, with 103 self-immolations occurring in Tibet and the other four taking place overseas. Some of them were monks and nuns, others were ordinary men and women, ranging in age from teenagers to those in their 30s or 40s. When they burned themselves, many of them shouted: “Let the Dalai Lama return,” “Tibet wants freedom,” “Tibetan independence” and “ethnic equality.”
This series of self-immolations could be seen as an unprecedented collective protest in the history of China, and it shows that Chinese rule in Tibet is meeting with serious opposition.
The protests are a brave manifestation of people’s spirit and a forceful challenge to the legitimacy of nearly 60 years of Chinese rule over the region.
In the face of this challenge China has often resorted to outdated slogans and propaganda about the feudal system which it says existed in Tibetan society in an attempt to strengthen the legitimacy of its military invasion of the region more than half a century ago.
It is also employing tighter military controls over Tibet to try to prevent further self-immolations in the region.
These controls include arresting or persecuting family members of the victims and confiscating satellite television receivers owned by nomadic households.
Will this propaganda and the increased oppression succeed in suppressing the Tibetan people’s pursuit of freedom?
This will be one of the greatest challenges facing China’s next leader, current Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平).
Living in a free country, the Taiwanese conscience is strongly challenged by the series of self-immolations by Tibetans. The 54th anniversary of Tibetan Uprising Day is on March 10 this year and on that day those who care about the hardships of Tibetans will once again take to the streets to show their support.
Hopefully, anyone who loves and cherishes freedom will join them as they tell the Chinese regime loudly and clearly that a free Tibet is supported.
Chou Mei-li is chairwoman of Taiwan Friends of Tibet.
Translated by Eddy Changa