Although the movement began with Tibetan Buddhist monks, recent self-immolators have tended to be young laymen – and women. According to eyewitness reports appearing on exile websites alongside photographs of burning bodies, many of the men have shouted anti-Chinese slogans and praise for the Dalai Lama as they have died.
Their protests are dramatic illustrations of the frustration that many Tibetans living under Chinese rule – not just in the area designated as the Tibet Autonomous Region but across a wide swathe of western China – feel about the way the authorities treat them.
High on their list of grievances a lack of control over their ancestral lands, subjugation to Chinese economic interests, and a lack of respect for Tibetan language and culture.
An unusual student demonstration on Monday broke out in Qinghai Province protesting the distribution of an official booklet referring to the Tibetan language as “irrelevant” and to the wave of self-immolations as “acts of stupidity,” according to reports by US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia.