Mainland Chinese are largely sympathetic to the cause of Tibet but do not necessarily support self-immolation protests challenging Beijing’s rule in Tibetan-populated areas, according to a random survey carried out by RFA.
Chinese living in Tibetan-populated areas meanwhile are guarded in their comments on the more than 100 burning protests that have occurred so far, according to the survey by RFA's Tibetan Service, which polled about 30 Chinese citizens over the last few months.
“The oppression of Tibetans and the persecution by one race of another, aimed at eliminating their culture, is unacceptable in today’s world,” said a woman living in China’s northeast province of Jilin.
“It is unacceptable that one race should oppress the rights of another,” she said amid Tibetan concerns that their religion, culture, and language are being eroded under Chinese government policies aimed at clamping down on monasteries and other Tibetan institutions.
A Chinese man living in the south-central province of Guizhou said that he “wholeheartedly” supports and prays for those Tibetans who have self-immolated “for the cause of the Tibetan people.”
“I wish them success. May their aspirations be fulfilled!”
Expression of suffering
Some 107 Tibetan men and women so far have set themselves ablaze challenging Beijing’s rule in Tibetan regions and calling for the return from exile of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
These fiery protests are an expression of “suffering in Tibet,” said another Chinese man, who works as a tour guide in eastern Anhui province.
“China’s policy on Tibet has resulted in the death of many local people,” he said, adding, “It is a policy of bullying the Tibetan people.”
“I believe they have the right to express their thoughts,” he said.
Most of those interviewed spoke on condition of anonymity, and not all expressed support for Tibetan protests.
“If Tibetans have a choice, it is best for them not to set themselves on fire,” said one woman, a hotel receptionist in the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing.
“When people hear of such incidents, their first impression is that [the self-immolators] have no regard for their lives.”
“The extreme step of taking one’s own life by burning cannot be justified,” she said, “but I am not the one who set herself on fire, so it is difficult to comment on it.”
'Not an easy task'
Others cited the risks involved in confronting China’s government on the sensitive issue of Tibet.
“Challenging the Chinese communist dictatorship is not an easy task,” said a student at a university in the western province of Sichuan.
“You live in constant fear of risk to your own life. For the slightest transgression, you could be arrested,” she said.
Chinese courts have jailed more than a dozen Tibetans, including monks, in connection with the self-immolation protests in the last few weeks. Some were given jail terms of up to 15 years.
Human rights groups have criticized the Chinese authorities for criminalizing the burning protests.
Chinese authorities have also deployed paramilitary forces and have restricted communications in the areas where self-immolations have occurred.
A worker in Inner Mongolia—where many resent Chinese rule and hold protests against China's land, language, education, and environmental policies in the region—observed that Chinese censorship of the news has kept many ethnic Mongolians “in the dark” on the issue of self-immolations.
“[T]herefore, it is not appropriate for me to comment on the issue,” he said.
'Scared to talk'
A Chinese schoolteacher living in China’s far western province of Qinghai, a Tibetan-populated region where large numbers of self-immolations have occurred, meanwhile said he is too “afraid” to openly discuss the issue.
“If what I say does not toe the official line, and the relevant officials are displeased, I will be at their mercy because they have all the power and the money,” he said.
“Our society doesn’t have a system that protects the poor and helpless, and we are always on the receiving end of official anger.”
“So I am scared to talk about this,” he said.
Reported by Lobsang Choephel for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Dorjee Damdul. Written in English by Richard Finney.