My nephew self-immolated for Tibet

Tsering Kyi is a Tibetan journalist, writer, blogger, and a former Miss Tibet. She escaped from Tibet into exile in … Continued

Tsering Kyi is a Tibetan journalist, writer, blogger, and a former Miss Tibet. She escaped from Tibet into exile in 1999. This piece has been translated from Tibetan by Dhondup Tashi Rekjong and Tenzin Dickyi.

The early morning call from my relatives in Tibet woke me in my Washington, DC apartment.  I heard people crying, and yelling and sounds of protest in the local dialect of my hometown Amchok in eastern Tibet.

“Boys, don’t be sad, be strong, walk this way, walk forward. Om Mani Padme Hum, think of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.” Nobody was speaking to me. Just confusion on the other end of the phone. I knew something terrible had happened.

I dialed other villagers who told me, “Your brother’s lovely son has passed away.”


“Your nephew set himself on fire on Amchok street around 2 pm today.”

On January 12, my nephew Tsering Tashi became the first Tibetan self-immolator of 2013. He joined the nearly 100 Tibetans in Tibet who have self-immolated since 2009 to protest Chinese rule. Their demands are clear: freedom and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. The tragic wave of self-immolations epitomize the Tibetan people’s suffering under Chinese rule, and their struggle for a free Tibetan homeland.

How did such an idea occur to my humble nephew? It was only a few days back when we spoke on the phone. He said to me, half joking, half serious, “I see you often on TV but your hair is pulled back so your face looks like a moon. Don’t you have any nice chupas [traditional Tibetan robes] to wear?”

I teased him back, saying he should make me new chupas in Kachigar [Chinese: Linxia]. This was my last conversation with him.

I had not seen my nephew or other family members since 1999 when I escaped the Chinese and fled over the Himalayas, arriving in India as a refugee. I later moved to America where I now work as a journalist.

My nephew Tsering Tashi was only eight years old when I left home. Because I recited the Tibetan alphabet Ka, Kha, Gha, Nga, at home, his name for me was “sister Ka-Kha.”

On the morning of the day he set himself on fire, he said to his mother, “I will wear my chupa today. Which one is better?”

“It’s quite cold, so wear the thick one,” his mother said.

Wearing his thick chupa, he asked his fellow herdsmen to look after his yak and sheep.

“I have important work in town. I’ll be right back.” In the fold of his woolen robe, the others did not see the bottle of gasoline he would pour over himself. He switched off his cell phone. And then he lit a match.

My nephew, in his thick woolen chupa, was seen in the town engulfed in flames and calling out the name of “His Holiness the Dalai Lama”. He fell to the ground at least once before getting up again and running until he saw the police and army. Somehow, he then managed to turn away, before he fell again, and died minutes later.

Tibetans threw stones to keep the police and army away from my nephew’s body for as long as they could.

My brother was called to identify the self-immolator. Hardly able to bear looking at his disfigured body, he identified his son by the shape of his face. While some Tibetans went to get a car to transport the body, others continued to keep the Chinese police at bay. Finally, they brought the body home in a procession.

The police blocked the way of monks from the local monastery who tried to come to pray over my nephew’s body. When I called home I was told many police cars were stationed on all roads leading to our village. They turned away anyone who came to offer condolences.

An old member of the family said to me, “They ordered us to have a quick funeral without monks. We have our Tibetan tradition of arranging a funeral: We inform the head monk, then the monks come to pray, and we hold the ceremony and make offerings to the monastery. But the police are coming here again and again, saying we must have the funeral right away.”

How do I live with the fact that my beloved nephew was burned into bone and ashes beyond recognition? How do I console his wife who has become a widow, and his parents whose hearts are broken? How can I console my brother, prevented by Chinese authorities from giving his son a proper funeral?

Through the immensity of his own grief, my brother tried to comfort me. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I don’t think that my beloved son died without meaning or reason.”

Deep down, I too believe that the flames that rose from my nephew’s body will illuminate our struggle for freedom and bring a ray of hope to my suffering homeland.

My dear nephew – your sister Ka-Kha will keep your last words in her heart. Sleep in peace. My dear nephew, now forever separated from me, I don’t know whether this is real or an illusion. I have kept you in my heart for more than 13 years. I will remember your eyes and voice as you called for your sister at home, and I will imagine, my beloved nephew, that you go on living.

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  • WmarkW

    20 years ago, when normalizing trade relations with China was an issue, one argument for it was that it would give us leverage to campaign for human rights there.

    You should start a campaign to pressure our government to start doing it.

  • patrickmahoney

    Thank you Tsering Kyi for this excellent view of the phenomena. All of our hearts go out to you and your family during this terrible period.

    His sacrifice, and strength of conviction, will not be in vain. Tibet will be free again!

  • Dechen Tashi

    Tsering Kyi, this is one of your sisters from the six million strong.I feel the pain you feel for we both lost one of our family heroes.Therefore; I am on this page to grieve with you by talking about it, by not allowing Tsering Tashi’s suprime sacrifice go in vein.He used the only means left available to him. His own life ! China has left Tibetans with no other obtions to express grievances.There is no government on Tibetan side to lend ears to hear and listen to their problems, no medias to reach out to,human rights is understood as weapon against the Beijing goovernment, thus its absent in Tibet, Tibetan culture and language is threat to the paranoed Beijing government, environmental beauty that existed intact in Tibet before the communist Chinese arrival in Tibet looks like disappearing with destruction, free spirited nomads are forced into city/urben life they are not used to. Thus losing their thousands of years habit of camping in the open wide space freely is deprived to them.What is left with Tibetans is pain and suffering with ever increasing more pain and suffering.Our brothers and sisters in Tibet need some means to cry for their much neede help.Tibet is the highest and largest plataue on earth with biggest and most unbreakable padlock ; thus making Tibet the hugest prison jail world has ever seen.How else can compassion filled decent and respectable Tibetans send for help if not by sacrificing their own precious human lives through self-immolation? How else ?
    To the Chinese readers,lashing out at the Tibetans by your government as well as you is not the way nor is it a decent attempt to bring Tibetans closer to like you.We know you hate the Tibetans.Uderstandable! Enough is enough;now !It’s time Chinese people face the truth. You know; we are two distinct ethnic groups having two distinct nations.Filling your comment section with all “F” words will definitely not get us anywhere .How about Xi Jinping have dialogue with H.H the Dalai Lama ??

  • Tibetan kid

    Dear sis,
    We pray to god that his life and all Tibetan who give up their life for us won’t be waste. ….free Tibet ….. May their soul be in peace.

  • estelene

    I am so sorry for your loss. May your memories of your nephew comfort you in your grief.

  • centgo

    I m sorry to hear that. Life should be respected by everyone. I m not sure whether your nephew did it on his own will or

    was just told to do so. Anyway he was quite young and should not end his life like this.
    The one who instigated the self-immolation is like a murderer. Why doesn’t the “manipulator” do it by himself?
    Your nephew’s parents brought him to the world and definitely they don’t want lose him in such a way. As you say how can we console his wife who has become a widow, and his parents whose hearts are broken?

  • persiflage

    There’s a tragic paradox at work when Buddhists commit public suicide as a form of political protest. This is the ultimate act of human dispair. I thought it was futile in Vietnam and believe it to be just as true in the recent cases reported in Tibet.

    Few if any governments in the western world support China’s tyrannical rule over Tibet, and yet none will lift a finger to help – the world ignores this travesty simply because of China’s dominance as a global economic power. China holds plenty of trump cards, including the proximate responsibility of keeping North Korea in check (as it suits their agenda).

    The only reason Taiwan is still free of China’s imperial rule and continues operating as a sovereign nation, is because of it’s own substantial firepower and a strategic alliance with the US military since WWII.

    The practical truth is that fighting fire with fire refers to employing weapons of war, rather than individual acts of self-sacrifice. That seems to be the only deterrent and the only solution to hostile government takeovers.

  • Chou Gin

    A court in southwest China’s Sichuan Province on Jan. 31, 2012 convicted two ethnic Tibetans of intentional homicide for inciting eight people to self-immolate, three of whom died.
    Lorang Konchok, 40, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve and has been stripped of his political rights for life. His nephew, Lorang Tsering, 31, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and has been stripped of his political rights for three years, according to the court verdict.
    Thanks to the police’s efforts, which are supported by the public, self-immolation tragedies are restrained to only a limited number of areas, and there is no such thing dreamed by Dalai Lama and his followers that all the Tibet

  • jbcw

    Dear Tsering Kyi,

    Personally I think it must take incredible courage to carry out a self-immolation for the benefit of others and I sincerely hope that the Tibetan cries will be heard by Beijing and the Political Classes of China and that the respect of the Universal Charter of Human Rights comes swiftly to Tibet and China, as indeed counties and all peoples

  • Omnivoor

    Tsering Kyi, Please be convinced and let all your country- and family-members know that Tsering Tashi’s death is mourned over and regretted by people from all over the world! I write to you via the Washington Post from the Netherlands in Europe, where I learned of the tragic death of your nephew via the mails of the Tibet organisation I am subscribed to. Be sure that far more then you will ever know, people are active to work towards the goal of freeing Tibet from this horrible oppressor China.
    They act far and far worse then even the Nazi-Germans did in Europe!!
    They probably are prevented to know what is really happening in your country and are brain-washed, just like the lady before me.
    That is not so very difficult: after all it is much easier to believe that your government is on the good side then that is is part of a fascist organisation.
    Maybe, therefore, the pressure should be more on the Chinese citizens to learn them to open their eyes? Be strong and keep on sharing your love!

  • Omnivoor

    Persiflage, though I think you’re thoughts are positive, you’re approach is not, to my opinion. The way the people of Birma are achieving their goal IS very good and COULD BE a good example-
    but the dictatorship of China in Tibet is sadly enough far worse even then that of Burmese! Nevertheless, the advantages of the secular approach could be of use in Tibet; but letting go of the immense love for the Dalai Lama is not necessary for that nor conditonal. I even doubt if one could call the Tibet before the Chinese invasion a Theocracy: the worldly power was not submitted to the Theocratic powers, as I believe. There were policeofficers, courts and laws: where did the Dalai Lama come in in those days? Now, HisHolyness has supported the foreign policy-job for a long time, in relation to the worldwide honour, respect and attention he got for himself. From that point of vieuw, it was only very practical to do so. Now, as he has resigned for a greater part of his duties, his message of non-violence can and must be kept: changing it into any kind of threat would give the Chinese only more motivation to their cruelty- if they might need any!
    But in that non-violence message, the respect and the appel on the protection of the world can and must be ameliorated, next to a stronger building of the inner forces of the intern organisation of the country if possible, with Birma as example. In that part, I do agree with you. May God, the Dalai Lama or just plain common sense make that people do not need to become so desparate that they immolate themselves anymore!!