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Except self-immolation, what else can be done? by Wang Lixiong
Phayul[Friday, January 20, 2012 01:48]
By Wang Lixiong

Translated by Ogyen


I absolutely respect the Tibetan self-immolators. Whether they had clear visions, their intentions being achievable and realistic or not, their collective actions have inspired the courage of a nation.

Courage is a precious resource, especially for the one which is materially weaker, as it is courage that is usually the key to victory by the weak over the strong. Self-immolations need the maximum courage. The shocking heroic spirits of those sixteen Tibetans inside Tibet, along with Sopa Rinpoche from Amdo Golok setting himself on fire, bravery could be said to have already reached its apex. I think these have already proven their worth as far as encouraging a nation as a whole is concerned.

Now the question turns to, how such precious courage resources should be utilized? To burn courage with continuous self-immolations are, from now on, becoming wasted. Such inspirational courage of the martyrs should actually be utilized more productively and this only is what the pioneers hope for and the real value their sacrifices deserve.


The self-immolators being so daring to give up lives merely by setting themselves on fire are non-violent acts at their zenith. However, still not only self-immolation being a form of violence, but also a severe form, except the object of violence is self.

Inflicting violence to self, apart from being a protest out of desperation and defense of dignity and honor, also an act that expects for its effectiveness, as Gandhi said, “We can influence the government with the sufferings we endure”; or Martin Luther King said, “We shall challenge your capacity to create sufferings with our capacity to endure them…to deplete your hatred…awaken your conscience.”

However, the precondition for such expectations is the existence of conscience. An authoritarian regime is composed of rigid structures, ruthless logics and bureaucratic interests. Who saw the regime’s conscience when thousands of students once fasted unto death at Tiananmen Square?

This is the limit of non-violent struggle – decision is not taken by those who struggle, but by the government. The struggles are useful only in terms of pressurizing the government where there would not be progress if the government does not compromise, and thus, the current crisis in Tibet is inevitable.


To take which direction in order to get Tibet out of this crisis should, I think, be the foremost question to be answered. It is blind without direction. Even the heroic sacrifices make us feel that they have mostly occurred out of hopelessness. These sheer self-immolations, apart from being emotional turmoil, are direct acts of ignorance.

Calling the self-immolators brave but not wise is not fair. Wisdom is not a technique to be imprudently and barely alive but the far-sightedness that leads Tibet out of this crisis, which common people should not and cannot be responsible for. On the other hand, considering politically retired Dalai Lama as the only source of wisdom is irresponsible. The Dalai Lama has already defined non-violence and middle-way approach and now it is the politicians who should be responsible for finding the wisdom to materialize it.

Such wisdom is yet to be seen. China holds cash with one hand and dagger with another; and Tibet – suppose represented by the exile government, except being seen issuing statements, does not know what to do.

Please inform the brave Tibetans what they can do. Knowing what they should and can do will help them live, not exchange their tragic self-immolations for merely a short media report.


The Dalai Lama has set genuine autonomy for Tibet as the goal, which if being demanded outright from the start, will materialize only in case the Chinese government shows mercy. This, as clearly proven by all the efforts done in the past, is merely an illusion.

The Dalai Lama has been pursuing autonomy within the frame-work of Chinese constitution, while China has always been implementing the laws of village self-rule. Then why can’t the struggle for Tibet’s genuine autonomy start with seeking autonomy for each Tibetan village?

Genuine autonomy should be built upward from the base, layer by layer, and gradually expands into national regional autonomy. A starting point of autonomy at the base will definitely lead to national regional autonomy in the future.

Village autonomy succeeds with participation by the common people who being active themselves, do not need to passively wait for the gradual and fruitless negotiations by the leaders; do not need to protest under the gunpoint and even resort to self-immolations to put pressure on the leaders.


According to me, getting Tibet out of this crisis should start from village autonomy.

Although village autonomy is not so relevant with ethnic issues but with issues of human rights, mining, environment, religion etc that will help avoid ethnic conflicts and intertwine with the popular rights movements in China and become their components, thus, gain support from the general Chinese public.

Wukan village in Guangdong is the most recent example. Once the villagers rose up, party secretary and chairman of the village had to flee. Each household sent a representative who then select amongst them to form a village council. This autonomous council besides managing the village in perfect order, also guaranteed rationale of the villagers and kept law and order of the village even with government suppression and police siege, thereby becoming what the Hongkong media praises as “the first organization elected by the villagers that has been approved by the government”.

Can Tibetan villagers succeed this? Tibetan villages too possess all the conditions Wukan does. If one Tibetan village succeeds, Tibet will already have a banner; with ten villages succeed, darkness of the night will be ignited with light of the dawn; with a hundred villages, genuine autonomy will rise from the horizon and embrace Tibet……

Thus said, I believe a very familiar question will definitely arise here – what Chinese people can do cannot be done by Tibetans, Tibetans will be labeled as separatists and thus face suppression……etc. We have been hearing such doubts too long, too much. This can be answered with one simple sentence: Being not even scared of self-immolating, what else are to be scared of?

The courage of a nation, here becomes a magical weapon to bring victory.

[To read this article in Chinese, please go to http://woeser.middle-way.net/2012/01/blog-post_14.html]

Wang Lixiong is a Chinese writer and scholar and a well-known Tibetologist. The article was submitted by the author.

The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.
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