A 35-year-old Tibetan nun named Palden Choetso set herself on fire on a street corner in southwest China last November. The final moments of her life were captured by an amateur video camera. As bright orange flames engulfed her body, Choetso stood impossibly still until finally she dropped to her knees and toppled over.
Choetso is one of 49 Tibetans, ages 17 to 44, who have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest repression in Tibet by Chinese authorities. The latest was on Monday, when two young men in their early 20s””one a monk””did so in a Tibetan region of China’s Sichuan province. This spate of self-immolations among Tibetans is unprecedented.
With China not changing its policies denying true religious freedom and civil liberties to Tibetans, the self-immolations are likely to continue. This presents an uneasy quandary for Buddhists, who consider the taking of life, including suicide, taboo.