Tibet on Fire

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Tibet on Fire
Tibet on Fire.jpg
Author Tsering Woeser
TranslatorKevin Carrico
Cover artist Ai Weiwei (Chinese dissident artist)
CountryUnited Kingdom
SubjectComplex issues around the protests and self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet today, under Chinese occupation
Genrenon-fiction, history, political science, politics, Asian studies
Set inTibet
Publisher Verso Books
Publication date
12 January 2016
Media typePaperback, Digital
ISBN 978-1-78478-153-8 (Paperback)
Website Publisher's website

Tibet on Fire: Self-Immolations Against Chinese Rule is a book by Tsering Woeser, published by Verso Books in 2016. The book is a contemporary if not painful introspective look at a major social and human rights problem caused by the forced integration of Tibetan and Chinese societies, and due to empirically repressive policies of the Chinese (PRC) government.



Tibet on Fire is an account of the discrimination and atrocities faced by Tibetans in 21st century Tibet, and their resistance to foreign/Chinese rule and occupation. It is written from the perspective of a Tibetan with personal experience in the Tibet-China conflict. Since the 2008 uprising, [1] [2] nearly 150 [4] Tibetans, most of them monks, have set fire to themselves to protest foreign occupation of their country. Most have died from their injuries. It is important to understand the book is not about self-immolation, but uses this horrific reality as a way to focus and then delve into the fervent emotions central to Tibetans and their long search for national and individual freedoms. The book provides insight into the ideals and personal motivations driving those who resist: the self-immolators and also other Tibetans like the author.

Historical setting

Tibetans have been protesting occupation and unjust rule since China militarily entered and used false treaties to occupy their sovereign nation of Tibet [5] [6] in 1950. [7] [8] China has since then gradually introduced more repression through subtle policies that weaken and disenfranchise the native Tibetan population. [9] Their aim seems to be to either wipe-out Tibetan people [10] [12] and their culture, or to dilute them with the dominant Chinese Han. [14] As a result many Tibetans have had to escape to other countries, but the 6 million Tibetans remaining in their occupied homeland [15] experience daily oppression through unreported atrocities. [17] [19] Especially targeted are Tibet's Buddhist monasteries and schools, whom the Communist and anti-religious Chinese government sees as the main stewards/teachers of Tibetan culture. These Buddhist monasteries and schools, the largest being Larung Gar Buddhist Academy with 40,000 residents,[ citation needed ] are literally and systematically being demolished, [20] and the monks who lived in the destroyed monasteries, young men and women, are force-ably relocated en masse [21] to live in political concentration camps they call "patriotic camps". The displaced monks see no way out of the increasingly harsh indoctrination and punishments meted by authorities. [22] With their educational, spiritual, and physical/housing needs literally discarded, they see little hope or a personal future.

As a result, these young men and women are more often taking dire steps to bring attention to their plight. One method they use, self-immolation, [23] [24] [25] is the guiding theme the book uses to explain the complex interplay of issues, emotions, intentions, and hope. The book portrays the anguish felt by Tibetan leaders at each life lost, and their hope that public attention will bring realization that every life, especially every young Tibetan person's life, is vitally needed to fight the cancerous oppression.


One of the world's leading historians and experts in the China-Tibet conflict, Dr. Elliot Sperling, a Professor, MacArthur Fellow and author of The China-Tibet Conflict: History and Polemics gave his perspective on the book and its author: “Woeser is one of the most well-informed and trenchant commentators on Tibet today, and with this volume she presents readers with a unique and well-reasoned analysis and account of the phenomenon of self-immolation in Tibet, its precipitating causes and its significance. This is a most important book about a most urgent subject: the ongoing consequences of continued Chinese repression in Tibet.”

Dr. James Leibold, also an academic and author, praised Tibet on Fire by writing “Tibet on Fire is a deeply moving and humanising book by an intrepid women with one foot in both Tibetan and Chinese societies. Woeser takes us behind the headlines and helps us better understand why so many Tibetan people have chosen to end their lives in this horrific form of protest” [26]

Related Research Articles

Self-immolation is the act of killing oneself, typically for political or religious reasons, particularly by burning. It is often used as an extreme form of protest or in acts of martyrdom. It has a centuries-long recognition as the most extreme form of protest possible by humankind.

Free Tibet (FT) is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation, founded in 1987 and based in London, England. FT, according to their mission statement, advocates for “a free Tibet in which Tibetans are able to determine their own future and the human rights of all are respected.”

Jigme Phuntsok

Kyabje Khenchen Jigme Phuntsok, born 1933– died January 7, 2004, was a Nyingma lama and Terton from Sertha Region. His family were Tibetan nomads. At the age of five he was recognized "as a reincarnation of Lerab Lingpa. Known also as Nyala Sogyel and Terton Sogyel, Lerab Lingpa was an eclectic and highly influential tantric visionary from the eastern Tibetan area of Nyarong ." He studied Dzogchen at Nubzor Monastery, received novice ordination at 14, and full ordination at 22. In 1980, he founded Larung Gar, the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastic academy.

Larung Gar Town in Sertar county, Garzê, Sichuan, China

Larung Gar in the Larung Valley is a community in Sêrtar County of Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Sichuan, China, known of as Kham. Larung Gar is the local name for the community of mostly Tibetan and Han Chinese students which grew around the Serta Larung Five Science Buddhist Academy, founded in 1980 by Kyabje Khenchen Jigme Phuntsok. The residents are monks, nuns, vow holders and lay people. Larung Gar was considered the largest Buddhist monastic center until demolitions by the Chinese government recommenced in July 2016.

Larung Gar Buddhist Academy

In 1980, Kyabje Khenchen Jigme Phuntsok founded Larung Gar, which was officially named by the 10th Panchen Lama in 1987 as Serta Larung Five Science Buddhist Academy, also known of in Tibetan: བླ་རུང་ལྔ་རིག་ནང་བསྟན་སློབ་གླིང་།, ZYPY: Serta Larung Ngarig Nangdän Lobling ,, located in the Larung Valley (喇荣沟) near the township of Larung in Sêrtar County, Garzê Prefecture, Sichuan Province, known of as Kham. The Serta Larung Five Science Buddhist Academy grew from Khenchen Jigme Phuntsok's mountain retreat. The purpose of Larung Gar's Academy is to provide an ecumenical training in Tibetan Buddhism and to meet the need for renewal of meditation, ethics, and scholarship all over Tibet in the wake of China's Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.

Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture Autonomous prefecture in Sichuan, Peoples Republic of China

Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, also known as Aba, is an autonomous prefecture of northwestern Sichuan, bordering Gansu to the north and northeast and Qinghai to the northwest. Its seat is in Barkam, and it has an area of 83,201 km2 (32,124 sq mi). The population was 919,987 in late 2013.

Tsering Woeser

Tsering Woeser is a Tibetan writer, activist, blogger, poet and essayist.

2008 Tibetan unrest Ethnic violence in Tibet

The March 2008 Tibetan unrest was a series of protests and demonstrations against the Chinese government's persecution of Tibetans. The scheduled 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was a rallying point before 2008, and protests in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa by monks on 10 March is credited with beginning the movement. Numerous peaceful protests and demonstrations were held to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising Day, when the 14th Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet. The demonstrations in Lhasa by monks, nuns and non-monastic Tibetans were met on 14 March, Buddha Day, and afterwards with electric prods, tear gas canisters, and indiscriminate shootings, according to a report by Human Rights Watch on the excessive use of force by Chinese forces. The protests and demonstrations spread spontaneously to a number of monasteries and through the Tibetan plateau, including into counties located outside the designated Tibet Autonomous Region. The Chinese police and military units' excessive use force likewise spread, and the arrest of monks at Labrang Monastery caused more clashes. International protests of support were also held in major cities, and at Olympic events.

Sinicization of Tibet

Sinicization of Tibet is a phrase which is used by critics of Chinese rule in Tibet in reference to the programs and laws which force "cultural unity" in Tibetan areas of China, including the Tibet Autonomous Region and surrounding Tibetan-designated autonomous areas. The efforts are untaken by China in order to remake Tibetan culture into mainstream Chinese culture. Another term for sinicization is cultural cleansing, used by the 14th Dalai Lama and by the Central Tibetan Administration to describe the results of China's sinicization programs and laws in Tibet.

Ngawa County County in Sichuan, Peoples Republic of China

Ngawa County, or Aba or Ngaba, is a county in the northwest of Sichuan Province, China. It is under the administration of the Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. It is located in the remote northwestern part of the prefecture, on the border with Qinghai and Gansu. The county seat is Ngawa Town.

Sêrtar County County in Sichuan, Peoples Republic of China

Sêrtar County or Serthar County is a county in the northwest of Sichuan Province, China, bordering Qinghai province to the north. It is one of the 18 counties under the administration of the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, covering some 9340 square kilometres. Sêrtar, which means "golden freedom" in Tibetan, lies in the southeast of the Tibetan Plateau and in the historical region of Kham. The vast majority of the population is Tibetan, followed by Han Chinese.

Yarchen Gar

Yarchen Gar, officially known as Yaqên Orgyän Temple, is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery of the Nyingma school, with an institute and residential community in western Sichuan province, China. With Tibetan and Chinese students, the majority are nuns, lending its name as the City of Nuns. Yarchen Gar lies in an isolated valley 4000m above sea level in Pelyul County, 400 kilometres (250 mi) west of Chengdu in the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, known as Kham. Its estimated sangha of 10,000 nuns, monks and lay practitioners was considered the largest concentration of monastics in the world. By the end of 2019, more than half of their residences had been demolished by Chinese authorities.

Phuntsog self-immolation incident

The Phuntsog self-immolation incident occurred when a Tibetan Buddhist monk by the name of Rigzin Phuntsog self-immolated on March 16, 2011 in Ngawa County, Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan province, People's Republic of China. This was followed by another self-immolation incident on September 26, 2011. By March 2012, more than thirty other Tibetans had self-immolated as a protest against Chinese rule of Tibet.

Kirti Gompa

Kirti Gompa, is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery founded in 1472 and located in Ngawa, Sichuan province in China, known as Kham. As of March 2011, the gompa was said to house 2,500 monks. However, reports indicate its population has declined substantially as a result of a crackdown by authorities.

Protests and uprisings in Tibet since 1950

Protests and uprisings in Tibet against the government of the People's Republic of China have occurred since 1950, and include the 1959 uprising, the 2008 uprising, and the subsequent self-immolation protests.

Self-immolation protests by Tibetans in China

As of July 2020, 156 monks, nuns, and ordinary people self-immolated in Tibet since 27 February 2009, when Tapey, a young monk from Kirti Monastery, set himself on fire in the marketplace in Ngawa City, Ngawa County, Sichuan. According to the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), "Chinese police have beaten, shot, isolated, and disappeared self-immolators who survived."

Chen Quanguo

Chen Quanguo is a Chinese politician and current Communist Party Secretary of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and a member of the 19th Politburo of the Communist Party of China. Originally from Henan province, Chen was among the first batch of students to graduate university after the resumption of Gaokao examinations in 1978.

Antireligious campaigns in China State-sponsored campaigns against religion in the Peoples Republic of China

Antireligious campaigns in China refer to the Chinese Communist Party's official promotion of state atheism, coupled with its persecution of people with spiritual or religious beliefs, in the People's Republic of China. Antireligious campaigns began in 1949, after the Chinese Communist Revolution, and continue today in Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, and other religious communities. State campaigns against religion have escalated since Xi Jinping became General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. For Christians, government decrees have mandated the destruction of houses of worship, such as Christian churches. In Tibet, similar decrees have mandated the destruction of Tibetan Buddhist monastic centers, of sacred Buddhist sites, of monastic residences, the denial of the Tibetan people's right to freely access their cultural heritage, and resulted in the ongoing persecution of high Buddhist lamas and of Buddhist nuns and monks. Reports of forced reeducation camps, arrests, beatings, rape, and destruction of religious sites in Tibet are likewise being made with regard to the Uyghur people, who are also allegedly being subjected to an ongoing cultural genocide.

Tibet House US Tibetan cultural preservation and education nonprofit founded in 1987 in New York City

Tibet House US (THUS) is a Tibetan cultural preservation and education nonprofit founded in 1987 in New York City by a group of Westerners after the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, had expressed his wish to establish a cultural institution to build awareness of Tibetan culture.


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