By Alexandria Sharpe (’14)
The images of the self-immolation of 35 year old Palden Choetso, a Tibetan nun from Geden Choeling Convent, have spread across the world. On 3 November 2011, Choetso was the 11th Tibetan religious figure since March to have taken to self-immolation in order to protest China’s historical suppression of Tibetan culture and religion. This wave of self-immolation among Tibetan monks and nuns has spurred Tibetan exiles in Nepal and India to hold vigils for those who have lost their lives.
These recent displays of Tibetan resistance have been more dramatic than those of the past. By and large Tibetans have preferred to take a non-violent approach to confronting the Chinese state, engaging in marches of solidarity or public, peaceful protests. However, the fact that there has been such increased willingness to carry out fatal violence on the self is evidence of the heightened levels of frustration and desperation felt by the Tibetan community.
Western pundits have tried to draw connections between the Arab Spring—spurred by the self-immolation of a Tunisian—and the recent events in Tibet. However, it is unlikely that the self-immolation of Palden Choesto will lead to a “Tibetan Spring.” The Arab Spring was largely made possible because of media and the widespread and instantaneous dissemination of information that it allows. However, part of China’s great strength in its continued repression of Tibet has been the Central Government’s ability to control the flow of information and opinion on Chinese airwaves. The self-immolation video of Palden Choetso somehow crept beyond China’s borders, but lack of instantaneous information will ultimately prevent Tibetan efforts from gaining momentum similar to the Arab Spring. For now, protesting will likely remain the largest means of airing Tibetan frustrations.