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Tibetans Burn for Their Faith and Freedom

December 8, 2011 The Communist Party cannot understand the meaning, or the power, of a believer's sacrifice. By TSERING WOESER Leaving Lhasa for Beijing one month ago, I was relieved to no longer be living under martial law, with soldiers and police everywhere. But for Tibetans the pain follows wherever we go: The news that another Tibetan has set fire to herself arrives. Thirteen monks and nuns have committed suicide as a protest since 2009. Most distressing of all is the sight of Palden Choetso, a 35-year-old nun, burning herself last month. The video runs no more than three minutes, and as soon as it begins one is surprised. The young woman's entire body is wrapped in flames, but she stands erect, looking like a burning torch. I covered my face with my hands because the tears flowed like rain. At first I imagined that she'd actually walked forward from within the flames, at the same time calling out the Dalai Lama's name. Only after looking more closely did I realize that she had not moved a single step, but was bending from the waist while doing her utmost to stand straight. Meanwhile, the people on the street were screaming, looking on helplessly as the raging fire sapped her strength. When the young nun fell, she still held her hands together devoutly. I wish I was the girl in the video wearing the Tibetan clothes who never screamed. Instead she proceeded toward Palden Choetso, who was engulfed in flames, and she threw a pure white khata to her as a sign of respect. The Communist Party does not understand why this is happening. The despots only believe in guns and money. They not only have no faith themselves, they can't even understand the power of faith to motivate acts of great selflessness. Tibetans are not so foolish that they value their lives lightly. Rather it is the despots who have ignited the flames that engulfed these monks and nuns by pushing them to the point of desperation. When a truly great disaster threatens any religion, there will always be a few believers who take the responsibility of becoming a martyr to protect it. During the Cultural Revolution, monks at the Famen Monastery near Xi'an committed self-immolation to stop the Red Guards from destroying their pagoda. The Chinese cadres and police are in all of the monasteries of Tibet. They were sent by the Party to brainwash all the monks and nuns, make them denounce the Dalai Lama as a demon, and raise their hands to recognize the Communist Party as their savior. The Chinese government is afraid that Tibetans who sacrifice their lives will inspire the living to resist. But no matter how it tries to hide the self-immolations and distort their meaning, the truth continues to get out. Even in that high elevation, where Tibet stands at the end of a muzzle of a gun, there will always be Tibetans ready and willing to become "burning martyrs." Their sacrifice has two meanings, one to protect their beliefs and the other to fight for their freedom. As they died, the burning Tibetans shouted, "Tibet needs to be free!" "Let the Dalai Lama return home!" Ms. Woeser, a Tibetan poet, writer and blogger, lives in Beijing. This article was translated from the Chinese by Paul Mooney. __________
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