Introduction: The Tibetan Situation

  • John Whalen-Bridge


Tibetan self-immolation is an agonizing way to die that is at once an action and a series of actions. As a form of protest, it demands the attention of diasporic Tibetans, those in the PRC, and of activists, reporters, and news consumers around the world. It provokes boilerplate responses from Chinese news media and government officials. Some ambivalently describe it as futile because it has not altered People’s Republic of China (PRC) policy in any way for the better. On the one hand, Elliot Sperling praises Chinese dissident Wang Lixiong for having “sought to articulate a way for Tibetan protests to move beyond self-immolation” (“On the Questions”). On the other, Sperling notes the ways in which these wretched acts have indeed been effective: “They have galvanized Tibetan sentiments and greatly strengthened the Tibetan sense of unity in the face of rule by China.” Has it had any effect? To answer this question, we must distinguish between several different audiences. The struggle between Tibet and China is a battle fought on many fronts, and the Tibetan self-immolation movement is a fire that has spread from the initial location to daily newspaper columns, and, even more rapidly, to our digital screens.


Political Theatre Soft Power Cultural Autonomy Stateless Person Digital Screen 
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© John Whalen-Bridge 2015

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  • John Whalen-Bridge

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