A book entitled Immolations in Tibet: The Shame of the World by Tibetan poet Tsering Woeser and illustrated by Ai Weiwei was launched this Thursday in Paris, the AFP reports. The book is currently only available in French and ‘tries to get to the root of why at least 120 Tibetans have set themselves alight in recent years, most in China but some outside the country.’
In the book, Woeser writes “Self-immolation is the most hard-hitting thing that these isolated protesters can do while still respecting principles of non-violence.”
The self-immolators include monks, nuns, teenagers, a taxi driver, a blogger and a former communist party official. According to Woeser, the reasons for their respective self-immolations are also as diverse, revolving around increasing controls on Tibetans’ political and religious freedoms such as “Authorities arresting people for watching videos of the Dalai Lama’s teachings, nomads forced off their pasture land to make way for mines and dams, surveillance cameras in monasteries, and many more.”
However, despite the tragic practice becoming increasingly common, both Chinese media’s portrayal of the complex issue and Beijing’s hardline policies have been criticized as flawed. Last year, Woeser also condemned the “double-standards” of Chinese human rights activists for remaining silent about immolations.
Woeser lives in Beijing and is frequently under surveillance. She has been placed under house arrest several times by Chinese National Security, including during an incident last year where she was barred from receiving the Prince Claus Award from the Dutch Embassy. She has written several volumes of poetry and keeps two blogs (some posts have been translated into English here).
Artist Ai Weiwei, who has previously spoken out against China’s policies in Tibet, illustrated the book’s minimalist cover. Tweeted by Woeser, it depicts flames on a white background inlaid with each self-immolator’s name. According to the Guardian, Ai agreed to collaborate after being approached by Woeser, commenting “the meaning of these self-immolations, whether on a philosophical or a religious level, is beyond what us living people can ordinarily understand.”
By Maea Lenei Buhre