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

Written by Oiwan Lam

Since 2009, there have been at least 17 Tibetan self-immolation incidents in China. The latest case was reported [1] [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 [2] and western media for inciting to violence and terror [3] [zh].

The reaction among Chinese public intellectuals and netizens is practically indifferent when compared to other self-immolation incidents, such as the Yihuang demolition [5] case. Some netizens wonder, where have all the public intellectuals gone?


Tibetan poet Woser (@degewa [6]) 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 [7] [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 [8]? And why don’t Han Chinese help bridging out [9] [zh] the information? Han Chinese [10]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 [8]: 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 [9]: 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 [11], 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 [12] [zh] and reach out to help a group of human beings [13] [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 [12]: 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 [13]: 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 [14] [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 [14]: 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 [15] [zh] that public intellectuals are playing dumb regarding the repression in Tibet:


@tengbiao [15]: 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 [16] [zh] with Tengbiao:



@yanghengjun [16]: 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 [17] on Twitter [zh]:


@zhaoyang8964 [17]: 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 [18] 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 [19] [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.

Article printed from Global Voices:

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