"Remembering The Young Monk, Phuntsog, Who Died from Self-Immolation" By Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser written on March 22, 2011 for the Tibetan service of Radio Free Asia and posted on her blog on April 19, 2011.
Woeser writes about the tragic self-immolation of young monk Phuntsog from Ngaba, Eastern Tibet, who self-immolated on March 16, 2011. As Woeser points, it is an incident reminiscent of the self-immolation of Tapey in February 2009.

Meanwhile the situation in Ngaba remains tense, see recent media reports such as this one from the BBC.

“Remembering The Young Monk, Phuntsog, Who Died from Self-Immolation”
By Woeser

On March 16 2008, when monks and lay people took to the streets in Amdo Ngaba and raised their voices in protest, among the many people that were killed by the state machinery were a pregnant women, a 5-year-old child and also a 16-year-old female middle school student, Lhundup Tso. Thus three years later on this day, many Tibetans commemorate the victims by lighting butter lamps in temples and at home. Phuntsog, a monk from Kirti monastery, commemorated by setting himself on fire.
On a sunny afternoon, he left the monastery that was under close surveillance by military police and walked on his own to the end of the sun-drenched road; here he suddenly went up in flames. From within the fireball he shouted: “Let His Holiness Return!”, “Tibet must be free!”, “Long live the Dalai Lama!” People gathered around watching in a state of shock, the entire street filled up with heavily armed special, ordinary, armed and plain-clothed police forces using clubs ferociously striking at Phuntsog; was this to extinguish the fire or to beat him?
On March 17 at 3 am, Phuntsog passed away. He was only 20 years old, born in 1991. His parents were from the second village in Me’urama Township, Ngaba County. Two Buddhist monks from Kirti Monastery, one lived somewhere inside Tibet and the other had crossed the snow mountains to escape to Dharamsala last year. Myself and some other friends interviewed them. They said that when they saw the military police beating Phuntsog, some monks and ordinary people rushed over and lifted Phuntsog up to take him to the hospital next to the temple, but it was already passed the hours. So they once more took him up and carried him to the monks’ residence, where his parents burst into tears of shock. They took him to the county hospital, but people there refused to take him in. To save his life, the people finally decided to pass Phuntsog over to the authorities begging them to save his life. That was at around 5 pm.
Very late that evening, the hospital was finally granted permission to take Phuntsog in and save his life but, by then, there was no hope left; early in the morning, at around 3 am, he passed away. Yet, the hospital refused to give his remains back to his relatives until 4 pm. It is said that government officials came to inspect his dead body. The monastery was told to complete any funeral activities before 8 am on March 18; they were not authorized to keep the body.
Phuntsog’s tragic death was reported by various foreign media. Even the Chinese government news agency Xinhua had to admit that this event had occurred. But initial reports referred to the victim as 24-year-old Phuntsog; later on, it was said that he was a 16-year-old teenager suffering from epilepsy. According to Xinhua, the police patrolling in the area promptly extinguished the fire and quickly took Phuntsog to the hospital for immediate medical treatment, yet “despite his heavy wounds, a gang of monks from Kirti Monastery who entertained ulterior motives, forcibly took Phuntsog out of hospital and hid him inside the monastery” and only after continuous negotiations by the local authorities and the victim’s mother did the monastery release Phuntsog so that he could be taken to the county hospital at 3 am. “Because Kirti Monastery kept Phuntsog for such a long time, precious time was lost that could have been used for the treatment of his wounds and he died on March 17 at 3:44 am.”
Xinhua News Agency tried to portray Phuntsog as someone suffering from physical or mental illness, it tried to frame the monastery and monks as murderers. These phrases were also used on February 27 last year when Tapey, a monk from Kirti monastery set himself on fire on the street and was afterwards shot by the police. After many foreign media reported on this issue, Xinhua had to admit that “a man wearing robes” had indeed set himself on fire, but they did not admit that military police had shot at him. The doctor also denied that he had any bullet wounds, and instead claimed that his body only showed combustions. However, in reality the hospital wanted to amputate his leg and right arm after removing bullets from them to crush all evidence, but only because Tapey’s mother tried everything possible to prevent this from happening, they eventually could not carry out the amputation.
Xinhua also reported that Phuntsog’s father said that his son “set himself on fire, there are only combustions and no other wounds”. This was just like Tapey’s case last year, Xinhua “quoted a Tibetan monk to argue that the talk about shooting was just an invention by him”. In fact, Jiangkou, the monk from Kirti Monastery who had taken and disseminated photos of the military police shooting last year, was later sentenced to 6 years and is still in prison at this very moment.
Phuntsog did not die because he set himself on fire; apart from the combustions, he had wounds from the beatings; he was beaten to death, he was killed. So March 16, the day commemorating the oppression of the Tibetan people will always be remembered for the 20-year-old monk Phuntsog who died from self-immolation.
Beijing, March 22, 2011


  1. I have zero respect for this. Suicide is nothing but cowardice. If this is the philosophy Tibetan's are using to free themselves, they ought not to be liberated. To allow this attitude to flourish would be to teach that rejecting the gift of life which God has given us –– no matter how difficult our trials –– by killing ourselves brings human progress. It is perverse, dishonorable, and disgusting.

    No one, especially Tibetans, ought to be supporting this. They should be teaching their children that this act was a manifestation of Tibetan weakness.

    If you're reading this Woeser, that's you especially. A person of your intelligence has no place in society inciting would-be patriots to pigeonhearted "Self-Immolations."

    If you truly believe in what you have said, you ought to be banned from writing even to your own people.

  2. I can feel for Phuntsog frustration and his only way to express this frustration. My heart goes to his family. We surely should not forget this martyr day and his demise should not go waste.

    I don't think no body has right to call banning the writing of any writer. They can express anyway they like. Its is upto readers how we should take it. I donot think tibetan people are foolish enough to follow anything written by anybody whoever his expertise maybe without buddha inherent advice of examination and anlaysis.

  3. ??????????? No one is expecting your respect "bryanbeus" , and let me tell you that we have something else than God. Shall we support it or tell our kids it's perverse, that's none of your business, leave that to us,not you, but "us", Tibetan.

    and when a real coward try to end his life,to commit a real suicide,trust me, he'll never chose burning himself to death, and it's not a self-immolation at all, but a PROTEST in a selfless way.

  4. Anon 6:40 PM:
    "No one is expecting your respect "bryanbeus,"

    I'm skeptical that you actually mean that. Why are you asking the rest of the world to help free Tibet? Without respect, you'll never get there.

    The idea that lighting yourself on fire is the "brave" or the "selfless" way to commit suicide is fallacious.

    Phuntsog apparently reasoned that suicide by fire would be so slow and painful it would cause those watching him to feel sorry for him and thus do what he wanted them to do.

    The only difference between this and the five year old boy who throws a temper tantrum at the store to get his mother to buy candy is that Phuntsog put his life on the line.

    When I was a kid, if I threw a temper tantrum in the store to try to get my mother to buy candy she ignored me –– or punished me.

    When Phuntsog threw a temper tantrum and killed himself, the Chinese did the same thing –– ignored him/punished him. His death was in vain from the moment he himself initiated it.

    If you want to get help, you're going to have to appreciate life so fully that the outside world will be inspired by your example. When the outside world sees that Tibetans are full of love, service, and appreciation for life the world will naturally want to help them.

    That was what got me interested in the Tibetan cause in the first place. I saw a documentary called, "Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion," in which there is an account of a monk who loved the Chinese and smiled brightly at all who saw him, even though the Chinese were systematically killing him and those around him.

    That's the Tibet that I respect.

  5. justrecently

    Whatever self-immolition may be – "pigeon-hearted" it is not.

    I guess bryanbeus just keeps throwing temper tantrums, online in this particular case. Too bad his Mum doesn't take care of him anymore.

  6. bryanbeus


    Let's take a look again at this situation using the above metaphor, "Candy at a Store."

    The person getting angry, or "having a tantrum" in this situation would be those voluntarily taking their lives rather than live in bondage.

    I am not in Tibet and not under any direct oppression from China, therefor I am on the outside of this situation looking in. If I were to place myself in this metaphor, I would be the customer standing in line behind the mother and child.

    Now, I also understand that you are referring to my being angry at the events in the above article. What would you say is the "Candy" which I want here?
    I'll tell you in my own words: Life and Respect thereof.

    I already have life and am doing my best to respect it, therefore I have my "Candy" already.

    I came to this website because I want to help. I would love for the Tibetans to have the candy they so desire.

    I cannot, will not, support suicide, and I will speak out against it.

    Now I have a direct question for you: What would you call "Self-Immolation?"

  7. justrecently

    What would you call "Self-Immolation?"
    That's a strange question, bryanbeus. I'd call it self-immolition, suicide, or something else that may come to my mind.

    However, my issue is with your suggestion that self-immolition would be pigeon-hearted. It would hurt me if someone close to me would kill him- or herself, but that wouldn't make me abandon my respect for the person – and I would try to avoid misleading characterizations of them.

    In my view, respect for life requires accuracy, too – for matters that I do and that I don't understand. All the more when the person who made a far-reaching decision is no longer available for explanations.

  8. bryanbeus


    That's a good point. I can see what you are saying.

    I don't mean to and should not be commenting on what was in Phuntsog's heart.

    I feel very strongly against people encouraging others to commit suicide, and the way Woeser is setting suicides up as examples is what I am fighting against.

  9. justrecently

    It seems to me that you took issue with the way Woeser reflected on Phuntsog's self-immolation, then.

    I can't tell how Woeser actually did tjat, because I didn't read her blog post in full, but as long as neither of us disrespects Phuntsog, I guess we haven't got much to quarrel about, bryanbeus.

  10. human rights

    Well,speaking of suicide,it is western countries that topple the highest rate of suicide in the world.Teach them, killing oneself even in free land is a REAL trantum.This braveheart job cannot be commit by chickenheart.Mind,these are two different things.Phuntsog has done to save millions and in your country it is done to get not enough for oneself,e.g.they suicide after losing a job.The difference between these two is earth and sky.So,no way to compare and complain.

  11. inquiring minds

    While this is an interesting debate –it is good to see that Woeser's writing has sparked continued interest–I think we're missing the real point of the piece: if the truth behind these deaths/suicides is not revealed in mainstream media, the impact of such actions is effectively null.

    It is not so much important how we feel about suicide personally. What is important is that these lives are not wasted!
    The remembrance of Phuntsog and Tapey in this article is not intended to encourage others, but designed to allow us to understand why it happened and try to comprehend the social and political forces at work in Tibet *right now* that result in such drastic actions from the nation's youth.

    If we quibble about Phuntsog's honor or cowardice instead of feeling his helplessness and rage–and CCP-enforced silence–then we miss the point, and he is pointless.


  12. justrecently

    Phuntsog isn't pointless either way, inquiring minds – but I agree with you otherwise.
    Discussing the good or bad of suicide on a nationalist level is no good.
    To discuss if a Tibetan suicide is more noble than an American suicide is rubbish, and shows no respect to human individuals.

  13. bryanbeus

    inquiring minds:
    I agree with what justrecently said about it being pointless to use Nationalism as a way to justify/denounce suicide.

    I agree with you that it is important to understand what caused these tragic events.

    One thing is certain, life is precious, and the living should do all we can to protect it.

    You say that it is important that the media show what is happening in order that we may understand it. Well, I for one am seeing what is happening through social media, and I am seeking more understanding. So, your call for others to see what the truth behind what is happening is taking place.

    The point that I want to make is that I am seeing the events surrounding Phuntsog, and understanding it, and what it is causing me to feel is not in the Tibetan interest.

    At the bottom level, I see suicide. Suicide is an act of despair. I am not commenting on Phuntsog's spiritual standing, only on the act of suicide itself.

    I also see leadership (Woeser) that is holding up suicide as an exemplary action. This cannot lead to greater happiness for humanity in the end.

    The personal character of Tibet that inspires others, such as myself, is its remarkable history of appreciating life. I give my support, prayers, and encouragement to those who are choosing to appreciate life, no matter how difficult it may be.

    Let us support and encourage those who are choosing to live and love.

  14. Yes,its terrible to see one shoots many innocents and then finally die himself.Ending the lives of many for what reasons,I dont know but it happens often in schools and supermarket is something that our human voice must be raised to safegaurd against those pleasure killers.

  15. Pingback: Deceased self-immolator’s photo becomes available more than 6 years after fiery protest – Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy

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