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date: 23 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Since 2009, 141 Tibetans have engaged in self-immolation, setting their bodies alight, in protest against China’s rule of their homeland. This article asks why. How has this previously unknown form of protest become the primary symbol of political opposition in Tibet today? Noting the lack of a tradition of self-immolation in Tibetan Buddhist culture, this article finds the origins of this seemingly incomprehensible act within the current sociopolitical context, wherein this fundamentally new phenomenon has taken on significant symbolic meaning in just a few years. This article further analyzes political, somatic, and religious meanings employed in Tibetan communities in interpreting this act, demonstrating how communities make sense of this phenomenon’s intertwined power and horror. Finally, beyond the Tibetan community, this article reviews various parties’ responses to these acts of sacrifice to begin envisioning new directions on the Tibetan plateau: a challenge demanded by the act of self-immolation.

Keywords: Tibet, China, self-immolation, protest, Tibetan Buddhism, sacrifice

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