Since 2009, there have been at least 17 Tibetan self-immolation incidents in China. The latest case was reported [zh] on January 15, 2012. The public discussion about the protests of Tibetans has been manipulated and monopolized by state controlled media outlets who blame the Dalai Lama and western media for inciting to violence and terror [zh].
The reaction among Chinese public intellectuals and netizens is practically indifferent when compared to other self-immolation incidents, such as the Yihuang demolition case. Some netizens wonder, where have all the public intellectuals gone?
Tibetan poet Woser (@degewa) is always among the first people on Twitter to bridge Tibetan news to Chinese communities. On January 15, after she read news of the self-immolation of a Tibetan monk near Ge'erdeng Temple in Aba, Sichuan, she wrote [zh]:
Is it because of sadness that people don't talk about it? Twitter user, @lotusseedsD, who lives outside China wondered, where have all the Chinese netizens gone? And why don't Han Chinese help bridging out [zh] the information? Han Chinese are the biggest ethnic group in China.
中国汉人为自焚的藏人做了什么？@wh_z @old_wine 相较国外的呼吁和翻墙出来的少数声音，除了会骂人傻逼互相掐架互相瞧不起，中国网民对藏人自焚的冷漠让人背脊发凉，让人不屑，让人引为齿。
藏人频繁自焚，请问中国民间舆论做了什么？ @wh_z @old_wine 我的意思是，中国网民有没有像乌坎动车追尾校车事故512地震等各种事件发帖，被删了又发，各个论坛删之不及制造舆论压力？中国汉人为自焚的藏人做了什么？？？？
Also on January 15, @cecilcoe pointed out [zh] that the online public sphere is highly manipulated by the web censors:
我可以作证：自焚者照片在新浪上一贴就删， 快得无法形容。 后来我改成贴台湾自焚者照片， 在文字中提到西藏自焚， 就比较慢。 在哪短短时间里有12个评论。当然，总人数没乌坎多， 但说汉人不关心， 也不尽然。
Human rights activist @tengbiao concurred [zh] that public intellectuals are playing dumb regarding the repression in Tibet:
Prominent blogger @yanghengjun agreed [zh] with Tengbiao:
The above discussion does receive some proactive responses, dissident @zhaoyang8964 also spoke out on Twitter [zh]:
Upon reading @degwa's tweets, Crazy Crab drew a cartoon to mock the Chinese government:
However, political statements could not help challenge the official discourse about the immolation incidents. So far Wang Lixiong is the only Chinese intellectual who has offered [zh] an elaborate and counter-official view of the Tibetan immolation incident. Below is a partial translation of his article written on January 12 on Tibetan immolation:
To exercise violence upon oneself, apart from being a desperate protest and defense of one's dignity – their expectation, if any, is similar to Gandhi's teaching: “Change the government through our sufferings” or Martin Luther King's saying: “We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day… we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process.”
The premise of such an expectation is the existence of a conscience. The machinery of the authoritarian government has only an iron structure, cold logic and bureaucratic interests. Many years ago, thousands of young people were on hunger strike in Tiananmen Square. Who saw any conscience then?
The limitation of non-violent struggle is that its end depends on the state power, not the protesters. The protest will only create pressure, it doesn't go anywhere if the power does not compromise. That's why Tibet is trapped in the current situation.
How to step out from this dead end? This is the most important question we have to address. Without direction it will result in nihilism. The self-immolation will bring more desperation. Apart from triggering emotions, it offers no solution.
It is unfair to say that the self-immolating are not wise. To live without dignity is not wise. The true wisdom is to bring Tibet out of the dead end with a vision. Ordinary people cannot lead the way out. However, it is also irresponsible to rely on the Dalai Lama who is slowly stepping out from the political scene. Dalai Lama has put forward the non-violent principle and a middle way, but it depends on the politicians’ wisdom to actualize it.
We can't see such wisdom at the moment. What the Chinese government has is a pile of paper money and a butcher knife; As for Tibet, if the exile government is the representative one, so far it doesn't know what to do apart from issuing statements.
Please tell the courageous Tibetans what they can do. If they know what they should/can do, they will live rather than use their own lives in exchange for a blink of media attention.