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 a prominent Tibetan writer, poet and peaceful social activist, 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.”

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

Larung Gar in the Larung Valley is a community of buddhist practitioners in Sêrtar County of Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, in Sichuan, China. The population of over 10,000 comprises primarily Tibetan and Han monks and nuns, and is based around the Vajrayana Nyingma school's Dzogchen Serthar Institute founded in 1980 by Jigme Phuntsok.

Larung Gar Buddhist Academy

In 1980, Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok founded the Larung Ngarig Buddhist Academy, in the Larung Valley (喇荣沟) near the township of Larung in Sêrtar County, Garzê Prefecture, Sichuan Province. The purpose of the Institute has been to provide an ecumenical training in Tibetan Buddhism and to meet the need for renewal of meditation and scholarship all over Tibet in the wake of China's Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.

Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Autonomous prefecture in Sichuan, Peoples Republic of China

Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture also known as Ganzi — is an autonomous prefecture occupying the western arm of Sichuan province, China, bordering Yunnan to the south, the Tibet Autonomous Region to the west, and Gansu to the north and northwest. It is sometimes spelled "Kardze" and "Garzin" by non-government sources.

Woeser Tibetan activist, blogger, poet and essayist in China

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

Palden Gyatso Tibetan monk

Palden Gyatso was a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Arrested for protesting during the Chinese invasion of Tibet, he spent 33 years in Chinese prisons and labor camps, where he was extensively tortured, and served the longest term of any Tibetan political prisoner. After his release in 1992 he fled to Dharamsala in North India, in exile. He was still a practicing monk and became a political activist, traveling the world publicizing the cause of Tibet up until his death in 2018. His autobiography Fire Under the Snow is also known as The Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk. He was the subject of the 2008 documentary film Fire Under the Snow.

2008 Tibetan unrest Ethnic violence in Tibet

The 2008 Tibetan unrest, also referred to as the 3-14 Riots in Chinese media, was a series of riots, protests, and demonstrations that started in the Tibetan regional capital of Lhasa. What originally began as an annual observance of Tibetan Uprising Day and the Vesak, turned into street protests by monks, which had become violent by March 14. The unrest spread to a number of monasteries and other Tibetan areas beyond Lhasa as well as outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. Xinhua, the Chinese government's official media outlet, estimated that 150 protest incidents occurred across Tibet between March 10 and March 25, but estimates vary. Casualty estimates also vary; the Chinese government claimed that 23 people were killed during the riots themselves, and the Tibetan government-in-exile claimed that 203 were killed in the aftermath. Violence occurred between Chinese security forces and the protesting Tibetans as well as between Tibetans and Han and Hui civilians. Police eventually intervened more forcefully to end the unrest. Protests mostly supporting the Tibetans erupted in cities in North America, Europe, and Australia as well as India and Nepal. Many of the international protests targeted Chinese embassies, ranging from pelting the embassies with eggs and rocks to protestors entering the premises and raising Tibetan flags.

Sinicization of Tibet

Sinicization of Tibet is a phrase which is used by critics of Chinese rule in Tibet in reference to the cultural assimilation which has occurred in Tibetan areas of China and has made these areas resemble mainstream Chinese society. The changes, which have been evident since the incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China in 1950–51, have been facilitated by a range of economic, social, cultural, religious and political reforms which have been introduced to Tibet by the Chinese government. Critics cite the government-sponsored migration of large numbers of Han Chinese into the Tibet Autonomous Region as a major component of sinicization.

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.

Garzê Town Township in Sichuan, China

Garzê or Gānzī, is a town and county seat in Garzê County, Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan Province, China. Despite Garzê Prefecture being named after the town, the prefecture capital is actually Kangding, 365 km to the southeast. As of 2010, Garzê was home to 16,920 inhabitants. Garzê is an ethnic Tibetan township and is located in the historical Tibetan region of Kham. It contains the 15th century Kandze Monastery, home to over 500 Gelugpa monks.

Yarchen Gar, officially known as Yaqên Orgyän Temple, is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery complex in Sichuan, China. It lies in an isolated valley 4000 m above sea level in Pelyul County in the Garzê Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. The monastery is associated with the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, with both Tibetan and Han Chinese students. With an estimated more than 10,000 sangha members, it's the largest concentration of monastics in the world, and the majority are nuns for which Yarchen Gar is also called The City of Nuns.

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 Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Chinas Sichuan Province

Kirti Gompa, is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery founded in 1472 and located in Tibet. 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 overview about the self-immolation protests by Tibetans in China

As of 5 June 2017 there have been 148 confirmed and two disputed self-immolations reported 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. In 2011, a wave of self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet, as well as in India and Nepal, occurred after the self-immolation of Phuntsog of 16 March 2011 in Ngawa County, Sichuan. Protests are ongoing.

Antireligious campaigns in China

Antireligious campaigns in China refer to the Chinese Communist Party's promotion of state atheism, coupled with its persecution of the religious, in the People's Republic of China. These anti-religious campaigns started occurring in 1949, after the Chinese Communist Revolution, and continue today, with an emphasis on the destruction of houses of worship, such as churches, as well as the destruction of Tibetan buddhist monastic centers, and an emphasis on persecuting reincarnated high buddhist lamas.

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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