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Protest By Fire: Why Some Tibetans Choose Self-Immolation

The number of Tibetans who have set themselves on fire in the past year to protest Chinese rule over Tibet is now estimated to be at 30. Most have died.

And more self-immolations are likely.

Not only are many young Tibetans increasingly anguished over what they see as China's oppressive actions, but those that choose to take such a dramatic action are seen "in a very positive light" by others in their community, Nottingham University professor of contemporary Chinese studies Steve Tsang tells The Guardian.

"I can't really see how it is going to stop," he adds.

In another report, the Guardian adds that:

"As those studying other forms of extremist spectacular violence have found, such acts are part of a culture that becomes established in a given institution or community, often on a very small scale.

"A momentum is generated leading to the spread of that particular form of behaviour, encouraged by the support of peers, elders and others. The local reaction to each death, rather than the international reaction, either encourages or discourages others."

In New Delhi on Monday, 27-year-old Tibetan exile Jamphel Yeshi lit himself on fire to protest Wednesday's visit to India of Chinese President Hu Jintao. Photos of Yeshi running past a crowd quickly went viral around the world. We've put one photo at the top of this post. Warning: you may find it disturbing. That's why we've added a screen that asks you to click before viewing.

Though Yeshi was reportedly burned over more than 90 percent of his body, he was still alive earlier today, according to the BBC: " 'His condition is very critical. The doctors had to do an operation to get him breathing,' AFP news agency quoted Sonam Wangyal, Mr. Yeshi's cousin, as saying."

As for the reasons behind the self-immolations, last week, in a story headlined "Tibetan Self-Immolations Rise As China Tightens Grip," The New York Times wrote that:

"Tibetan scholars and exiles say the current resistance campaign [aimed at China] is unlike anything seen before. The tactic — public, fiery suicides that do not harm bystanders or property — has profoundly moved ordinary Tibetans and bedeviled Chinese officials. Just as significant, they note, is that the protesters are mostly young — all but nine of them under 30."

Last month, NPR's Louisa Lim reported from the Tibetan plateau for Morning Edition that the self-immolations are among several signs "of Tibetan desperation and Tibetan radicalization." And, Louisa reported:

"There's a Buddhist prohibition against violence or suicide, but [the monks she spoke with] are of one mind on the self-immolations.

" 'What they did was great,' says the first monk. 'Yes! Yes! Yes!' says the second."

Chinese officials blame the Dalai Llama for supposedly encouraging the "disturbances."

In response, Tibetan government-in-exile spokesman Dicki Choyang has had this to say: "We are concerned about China shifting the blame on the Dalai Lama, making him the scapegoat rather than correcting their own repressive policies."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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