China: Tibet Burns, But Where Are the Chinese Public Intellectuals?

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].

Honoring seven Tibetan monks who self-immolated – Dharamsala, India (Oct 14, 2011) Copyright © Demotix

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?


Profile image of @degewa

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]:


@degewa: Tonight, we are crying… first it was me telling a Lama that one of his fellows had self-immolated. My tears kept running down. He could not speak…. It is so late now, you want to talk, but words don't come out. Finally you cry.

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。

@lotusseedsD: What have Han Chinese done for the Tibetans? @wh_z @old_wine. When compared with overseas concerns and a minority of voices, Chinese netizens only enjoy fighting and cursing online. Their indifference is so chilling and shameless.

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????

@lotusseedsD: So many Tibetans have self-immolated. What have the public opinion leaders done to help? @wh_z @old_wine. How come Chinese netizens do not bridge out information, compete with the web censors and create public opinion pressure like the case of the Wukan uprising, the school bus accidents, and the 512 earthquake? What have Han Chinese done for Tibetans?

She challenged Chinese netizens to look beyond their nationalistic feelings [zh] and reach out to help a group of human beings [zh] who are in pain.

换个方式:把 “藏汉”二个字从民族情结里去掉。17个生命用一种惊天动地的,在你居住的土地上以自焚方式求救呐喊想让人们听到他们的声音。您和您土地上的人,能为这17个宝贵的生命做些什么?继续要听不见呢还是用您微小力量把他们的求助声传播出去?

@lotusseedsD: Try to look beyond “Tibetan/Chinese” nationalistic feelings. 17 souls have self-immolated on the land that you live in so as to make their voices heard. What can you and people in your land do for these 17 precious lives? Continue to play dumb or help to spread their voices?


@lotusseedsD: Showing concern about self-immolation is not incitement. People living with you on the same piece of land are under oppression. You Han people may not be able to help the Tibetans, but at least you can show some concern as human beings. Let them know that you have heard their painful cries.

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。

@cecilcoe: I can testify: Sina deletes all the Tibetan self-immolation photos in a blink. Later I posted Taiwanese self-immolation photos and mentioned the Tibet incidents, and the deletion speed slowed down a bit and I received 12 comments. Of course, the concern is much less than about Wukan, but not all Han people are indifferent.

Human rights activist @tengbiao concurred [zh] that public intellectuals are playing dumb regarding the repression in Tibet:


@tengbiao: Apart from extremely few exceptions, Chinese public intellectuals are collectively playing dumb about the Tibetan self-immolation incidents. As an elephant in the room, their silence is a form of conspiracy. They are as shameless as the murderers.

Prominent blogger @yanghengjun agreed [zh] with Tengbiao:


@yanghengjun: They [the Tibetans] burned themselves to give light to the darkness. However, we have lived in the darkness for too long and turned into part of the darkness.

The above discussion does receive some proactive responses, dissident @zhaoyang8964 also spoke out on Twitter [zh]:


@zhaoyang8964: Tibetans self-immolated to express their anger and despair against the Chinese Communist government's tyranny. They protested with their lives. As a Han Chinese, I feel ashamed for such a shameless government. It is totally bullshit to say that “Tibet has always been (since the ancient times) a part of China.” His Holiness has been expressing his willingness to be a part of the China territories, all he is asking for is genuine self-autonomy. But the brutal government does not respect His Holiness nor the Tibetans’ demands.

Upon reading @degwa's tweets, Crazy Crab drew a cartoon to mock the Chinese government:

The Politburo Standing Committee on Fire.

The Politburo Standing Committee on Fire. Cartoon shared by Crazy Crab on

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.


  • 請看為什麼大陸官逼民反的事件層出不窮?請看從六四以來中共一直知錯不改顛倒是非治國,該探討的是如何形成一個個龐大的利益共生体,該整治的是如何防止一天天嚴重的官商勾結大貪腐,但是中共卻愚蠢邪惡地迫害指出社會弊端正義善良的勇士,比如
    誰都不希望看到社會混乱的局面,只要中共知錯能改,不再顛倒是非治國,不再與民爭利,真正為人民服務,改變殘暴治國霸權心態,停止迫害善良正義,公佈海外政府官員高額存款的來龍去脈,如此民心歸順,就不需再花費國家大筆財力維穩。什麼網監、網控、 610辦公室、勞教所黑牢,在全世界惡名昭彰,真丟臉啊!中共一直知錯不改顛倒是非治國方向弄錯了,網監、網控、 610辦公室、勞教所黑牢,去用在計生計劃逼迫農婦墮胎謀利的惡人,去用在打壓法輪功活摘器官販賣謀利的群魔,去用在河南(現在已經遍及全國)村民賣血謀利的吸血鬼,去用在豆腐渣工程謀利的罪魁禍首,去用在官商勾結亂拆遷與民爭利的貪官,是吧?
    本人太多廢話,中共高層權貴決策者全是上述弊端最大獲利者,有可能知錯能改,不再顛倒是非治國,不再與民爭利,真正為人民服務,可能嗎? 只要能把貪腐官員財產的來龍去脈查清楚,社會才能有正義,受苦難的人才會減少。如果國際上有個強有力的廉政公署負責調查各國有問題的貪腐官員,那麼卡扎菲就不會因殘暴貪腐而身亡,還犧牲那麼多人民。我想請海峽兩岸的正義律師聯合呼籲國際上趕快成立一個強有力的廉政公署,負責調查各國有問題的貪腐官員,就從中國和北韓查起,這樣可是唯一能避免發生許多無辜人民將來要和那些殘暴貪腐官員陪葬的大悲劇。
    請大聲呼籲吧! Please tell your president why the growing incidence of mainland slaughter? Please see the CCP has admitted the mistake from sixty-four not change since the rule of right and wrong, which is to explore how to form a symbiosis a huge interest, the regulation is a serious day by day how to prevent collusion and big corruption, but the Chinese are stupid evil persecution of social ills that just kind of warriors, such as
    Mr. Ai Weiwei compassion statistics Sichuan’s death was the high number of students taxed
    Mr. Chen Guangcheng exposed the inside story of birth control program was held
    Mr. Gao Zhisheng petition to stop persecution of Falun Gong is missing
    Miss Gao Yaojie care for AIDS village in Henan was hard to leave their homes

    People across the country look in the eyes of interviewees, and no one know very well: the Chinese Communists that serve the people, in fact, is all for the rich and powerful interests. Demolition put more people into enemies, the brutal rule of hegemonic attitude, lost much popular support to Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan compatriots difficult to agree, the CCP is now beleaguered, the enemy can be more.
    Who does not want to see social chaos, as long as the CCP rectifies, no right and wrong country, no longer compete with the people, really serve the people, to change the brutal rule of hegemonic attitude, kindness and justice to stop the persecution, Overseas Government announced high officials of the circumstances surrounding the deposit, so the people obeyed the country large sums of money to spend without holding stability. What network monitoring, network control, 610 offices, labor camp dungeon, notorious in the world, shame ah! CCP has admitted the mistake does not change the rule of right and wrong wrong direction, network monitoring, network control, 610 offices, labor camp dungeon, go with a plan to force the peasant woman in birth abortion profit of the wicked, to use in the persecution of Falun Gong organ harvesting selling profit Demons, to be used in Henan Province (now all over the country) the villagers sold their blood vampire profit to profit with the culprit in the shabby, to be used in demolition and chaos collusion of corrupt public for profit , is not it?
    I have too much nonsense, Chinese policy makers are all high-level dignitaries biggest gainers of these drawbacks, there may be rectifies, no right and wrong country, no longer compete with the people, truly serve the people, possible? As long as corrupt officials can check out the ins and outs of property, the community in order to have justice, by the sufferingof the people would be reduced. If the international community has a strong national Independent Commission Against Corruption to investigate official corruption problem, then it will not Gaddafi corruption and brutal death, but also the expense ofso many people. I would like to cross-strait joint call for international justice, lawyers quickly established a strongIndependent Commission Against Corruption to investigate the problem of corrupt officials of States, China and North Koreafrom the search, the only way to avoid this, but many innocentpeople in the future brutal and corrupt officials to be buried withthose of great tragedy.
    CCP vested interests can never be self-reform, so the above is the most peaceful way to it!
    Please call it loud!

  • Where were we when innocent Tibetan slaves were being tortured, maimed, flayed alive and murdered? I was a young adult before the Chinese entered Tibet–when the nobility was still in power–and I do not recall a single compassionate voice being raised in their defence.
    Not a single complaint about the 95% illiteracy, the 37-year life expectancy of the average Tibetan.
    Even when the nobility breached their agreement to free their slaves and, instead, decamped with Tibets’s national treasury: silence.
    The news that a dozen young people wish to publicly commit suicide in protest, though sad, is a measure of progress and the reaction that inevitably accompanies progress. It also reminds us of how few (and even voluntary) deaths there are in Tibet today compared with 60 years ago.

    • meibushengshou

      Godfree, I’m curious, how can you recall so vividly facts that happened more than 50 years ago ? Not a single voice ? I admire your factual memory ! You ought to be careful when relying on statistics in general, and Chinese statistics in general.

      • I think the reason it stuck with me is that I was fired from my first real job–teaching at a high school–for publicly defending China’s actions.
        Naively, I set about marshalling as many facts as I could find (difficult in those pre-internet days) to appeal against my dismissal–only to be told by the school principal that facts were irrelevant!
        Little has changed, I’m afraid.

  • @Godfree,

    You talk about slaves but Chinese are the ones who slaved Tibetans.
    You talk about nobility but Chinese are the ones who looted and continue to loot Tibet’s resources.
    You talk about Chinese entering Tibet but Chinese are the ones who violently marched into Tibet.
    You talk about 95% literacy in Tibet which is a Lie but Chinese are the ones getting jobs in Tibet.
    You talk about 37 yr life expectancy of Tibetans (another Lie) but Chinese have striped us of our human dignity.
    You talk about Tibet’s Nobility with slaves (major exaggeration) but Chinese are the ones who made Whole Tibetan population as slave.
    You talk about talk about young people(Tibetans) wishing to commit suicide but Chinese are the ones who drove Tibetans to suicide.
    You talk about “few deaths” in Tibet at present time but Chinese are the ones who continues to massacre Tibetans for simply demanding for Freedom.

    And you have the nerve to call us ungrateful?

    Ungrateful for what!
    For stealing our land!
    For looting our resources!
    For torturing, & Shooting us for speaking up!
    For labeling us “happy colorful minorities”.
    For cursing at our spiritual teachers!
    For trampling on our human dignity!
    For imprisoning our Tibetan singers for singing from their heart!
    For raping our Women!
    For Chasing our brothers and sisters into Exile!
    For Slandering our Culture! OUR TIBETAN IDENTITY!

    Shame on China & it’s Han chauvinistic mindset.

    Tibetans will win because the Truth is on our side and Truth always ALWAYS prevails. It has been proven throughout human history.

  • mario

    The reason why the incidents of the tibetan self immolating didn’t get the proper treatment from the chinese scholars is quite obvious first the restriction from the CCP has tighten up even more for free thinkers and the basic reason is China and Chinese when dealing with anything tibetan it is and will be always a burning issue. Don’t reduce to such naieve idea that these people self immolated themselves to get a glimpse in news, yes these acts were certainly sign of extreme measure but the impact will roll on far longer. CCP is the real elephant in the room which nobody sees or wants to see.

  • […] “Hot Spots” online issue of the academic journal Cultural Anthropology focuses on the recent self-immolations in Tibet. It features an impressive collection of scholarly responses to the self-immolations by well-known […]

  • […] large scale uprisings against Chinese rule as recently as in 2008. These, combined with ongoing self-immolations which have taken place all over Tibet as a form of political protest since 2009, have resulted in […]

  • […] China: Tibet burns, but where are the Chinese public intellectuals? […]

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