China: Tibetan-Consciousness Movement Spreads


The unrest in the Tibetan areas of China —Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan— continues in different forms. The unrest was triggered off in March last by unhappiness among the Tibetans of Sichuan over the continued suppression of their political, religious and ethnic rights by the Chinese authorities and over their attempts to punish anyone who proclaimed his or her loyalty to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The unrest in the Tibetan areas of Sichuan has taken the form of a chain of self-immolations by young Tibetan monks of the large Kirti monastery. The Chinese authorities have not been able to stop these acts or attempted acts of self-immolation despite their removing a large number of monks of the monastery to a military detention camp euphemistically called a re-education centre and punishing those present at the time of the self-immolations on charges of abetment to suicide. They have also been forcing senior monks to come out with statements condemning self-immolations as unBuddhist and have launched a campaign against His Holiness for not condemning self-immolations.


Despite these suppressive measures, acts or attempted acts of self-immolation continue with nine so far. In the latest incident reported on October 17, 2011, a nun is reported to have committed self-immolation. This is the first instance of a self-immolation by a nun in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. Wamgmo, the 20-year-old nun, was from the Mamo or Dechen Choekorling Nunnery, which has about 350 nuns in Ngaba. Nuns from here had also participated in the March 2008 protest movement,

The same day, the Chinese police opened fire on a group of protesting Tibetans, injuring two of them. There were no fatalities. The shooting followed a protest the previous day in the Khekor township of Serthar (in Chinese, Seda) county of the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture. A group of seven Tibetans protested in front of the local police station and shouted slogans calling for freedom for Tibet, the return of His Holiness from exile and the release from jail of His Holiness the Panchen Lama, chosen by the Dalai Lama in accordance with Tibetan Buddhist traditions. The Chinese have jailed him and the Communist Party of China has nominated its own Panchen Lama who has not been accepted by the Tibetans.

The self-immolations in Sichuan have been accompanied by protests and commercial strikes by Tibetans in the towns and villages to which those committing self-immolation belonged. The Tibetan community of Sichuan observed a day of fasting and protest on October 19 to express solidarity with the families of those who committed self-immolation. The acts of self-immolation havenot so far spread to other Tibetan areas outside Sichuan.

However, a Tibetan-consciousness movement has been spreading right across the Tibetan belt. The objective of the movement is to enhance the consciousness of the Tibetans—particularly the youth— about the distinct nature of the Tibetan culture as distinguished from the Han culture and to impress upon the youth the importance of preserving the Tibetan culture and maintaining their loyalty and devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The monasteries have been in the forefront of this movement.

As part of this Tibetan-consciousness movement, Tibetans are being encouraged to dress in typical Tibetan style, speak among themselves only in the Tibetan language, eat only Tibetan food and participate in joint prayer meetings. Reports received from Tibet and other Tibetan areas say that thousands of Tibetans—many of them youth—are participating in the peaceful gatherings organised by this movement. The Chinese authorities have till now refrained from disrupting this movement lest it lead to any violence.

At the Sershul monastery in the Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of the Sichuan province, more than 20,000 Tibetan monks and others gathered from Oct. 6-13 to take part in discussions on Tibetan-consciousness. In an earlier Tibetan-consciousness gathering from Oct. 2-5 at the Dzogchen monastery, also in Kardze, a senior religious leader spoke to more than 10,000 Tibetans on the Tibetan identity. Pledges to struggle for Tibetan freedom through non-violent means were taken

Similar gatherings were held in eight other places during September and October, including one gathering of about 1,400 monks in Nangchen in the Yulshul (in Chinese, Yushu) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Qinghai province.

The absence of acts of self-immolation, protest meetings and commercial strikes in Tibet itself should not be misconstrued to mean that the struggle for Tibetan rights, which led to a mass flare-up in 2008, is showing signs of subsiding. It has taken a different form. The presence of thousandsof Tibetans—particularly Tibetan youth— in the Tibetan-consciousness gatherings in Tibet speaks of the continuing pride of the Tibetans in their Tibetan personality, culture and religious faith.

The Tibetan struggle for the protection and preservation of their self-identity and their loyalty and devotion to His Holiness remain as strong as ever. What should be encouraging is that a new generation Tibetan activists, different from those who were in the vanguard of the 2008 flare-up, has emerged and is now leading the Tibetan struggle. The new generation believes in a peaceful struggle. It feels that the violence of March 2008 played into the hands of the Chinese and enabled them to use brutal force to suppress the movement.

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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