Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that Tibetan nun Yeshi Khando is presumed dead after setting herself on fire to protest Chinese rule, demanding freedom for Tibet and the return of the exiled Dalai Lama. Her death could not be confirmed by international media or Tibetan advocacy groups because her body was so quickly removed from the scene by police.
Such demonstrations have occurred before in Tibet – 138 times since 2009, according to The New York Times tally – but have become less common in recent years. The Chinese government routinely describes protesters as either mentally ill or dupes acting on the orders of the Dalai Lama, who counters by saying suicidal protests are an act of desperation that he cannot control.
The catalyst for Khando’s suicide may have been last week’s order by the Communist Party for Tibetan monasteries to fly Chinese flags, host Party propaganda activities, and submit monks and nuns to Orwellian assessments of its “patriotism.” Last month, Beijing actually demanded the right to control the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation after he dies, with an eye toward marching his spiritual essence into the body of a good Party man.
China’s campaign to amass moral, diplomatic, and economic credibility with the West has been entirely too successful at obscuring the brutal reality of Communist domination, even the variety that leaves enough free-market breathing room to maintain a functional economy and put money in the Politburo’s pocket. The Tibetans argue that Beijing is effectively erasing their culture, through a combination of heavy-handed edicts and old-fashioned demographic invasion.
The NYT says Khando was in her 40s and “had taken part in many peaceful protests since 2008, when uprisings against Chinese rule took place across the Tibetan plateau.” She walked around the Kardze Monastery in prayer before setting herself ablaze near the local police station and was heard shouting slogans such as, “Let His Holiness return to Tibet!” while she was on fire.
The Times also relayed a statement from Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, director of the Free Tibet advocacy group: “While many Tibetans are turning to other forms of protest, Yeshi Khando’s action shows us that some still feel self-immolation is the only way to express the depth of their grievance. Once again, we hear calls for Tibetan freedom and for the country to be reunited with its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.”