Tibetan Self-Immolations and a Chinese suicide

Tibetan Self-Immolations and a Chinese suicide

Bhuchung K. Tsering

August 29, 2012


There is news that an editor for the Chinese Communist Party’s newspaper, People’s Daily, has committed suicide on August 22, 2012. It seems, Xu Huaiqian, the editor, jumped to his death. People’s Daily has said that he had taken time off “because of depression and had sought medical help.”

In what could be a possible explanation for his suicide, the BBC reports that in an interview Xu Huaiqian had given earlier, he has been quoted as saying, “My pain is I dare to think, but I don’t dare to speak out; if I dare to speak out, I don’t dare to write it down, and if I dare to write it down, there is no place to publish. I admire those freelance writers, but I can’t leave the system because if I do that my family will suffer.”

The BBC also quotes from an article of Xu Huaiqian, under the headline “Let Death Be the Witness”, in which he says, “Death is a heavy word, but in China, in many cases, without deaths society will not sit up and pay attention, and problems won’t be resolved.”

I read the details about Xu Huaiqian’s death even as I was trying to digest news of yet two more Tibetans, Lobsang Kelsang and Lobsang Dhamchoe, who committed self-immolations on August 27, 2012, totaling more than 50 now. Inevitably, I began doing a comparison between the fate of Xu and these many Tibetans. At one level, Xu’s words in the above mentioned interview and the article clearly reflects the mental state of the Tibetan people. From the statements left behind by some of then Tibetan self-immolators we know that they feel this is the only way to draw attention to the situation of the Tibetan people.

From the perspective of the Chinese Government, Xu and all the Tibetans who self-immolated are equal citizens of the People’s Republic of China.

However, we can see from developments following Xu’s suicide how there is no equality in practice. While the Chinese authorities are hiding the self-immolations of the Tibetans from the Chinese public, they have announced Xu’s death to the Chinese and even tried to explain the reasons behind it.

Secondly, space is being provided to the Chinese public to air their views about the implications of Xu’s death. The China Media Project says the news of Xu’s death “has prompted a burst of discussion on Chinese social media of the extraordinary pressures facing journalists in China today.” The BBC reports that the news has “sparked strong reaction from Chinese cultural and media circles and on the internet.” One reader on Sina Weibo is particularly provoking. According to BBC, this person asks, “Did Xu Huaiqian die to serve as a witness? Was it personal depression or the depression of an era? What kind of country is this?”

In the case of the deaths of the Tibetans there are no such discussions in China. Is that solely because of the Chinese Government’s censorship or is there more to it? I think Chinese scholars, intellectuals, rights activists and others need to ponder over this. Things may have reached the breaking point in Tibet.


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