How can one express Tibet’s calamity and suffering in only a few words? Over the past several years, so many outstanding Tibetan people have suddenly and cruelly been taken away by the country’s machinery. A vast number of Tibetans have disappeared without a word.

How many? The Yushu Earthquake of 2009 officially left 2,698 victims, though in reality the number was over 10,000. If official figures are scaled down to such a degree for natural disasters, it is easy to imagine what is being done with figures of victims of political calamities. Against this backdrop, in the flames interweaving desperation and hope, one Tibetan after the other has self-immolated. Between February 2009, when the self-immolations started in Ngaba Prefecture, Amdo, and December 9, 2012, more than 100 Tibetans have self-immolated to protest the Chinese government and awaken their compatriots. In 2012 alone, there were 85 self-immolations.

Is it that Tibetans are irrational, that they have been manipulated, that they disrespect life and that they regard self-immolations as a means to increase their bargaining power? No, it is the autocrats, lacking any human traits, who have ignited the bodies of Buddhist monks and ordinary people.

The words spoken by the deceased before they self-immolated, the suicide notes or recorded testaments that some left behind, are the most precious pieces of evidence, clearly explaining why these people decided to bathe their bodies in flames:

The farmer who self-immolated in front of the township government, December 1, 2011: “How can we trust a government that does not allow us to believe in our religion?” “When I think of the suffering the entire Tibetan region and our Karma Monastery has gone through this year, I cannot wait and keep on living.” Signed, “A person maintaining dignity.”

In a remote county town-seat, Lama Sobha recorded his last words on January 8, 2012: “Just like Buddha who bravely sacrificed his body to feed the hungry tigress, all other Tibetan heroes who sacrificed their lives are like me, for the truth and freedom we choose our honor over our lives.”

The final words of two young people who self- immolated in Barma Township on April 19, 2012: “The pain of not enjoying any basic human rights is far greater than the pain of self-immolation.” Their voices had no trace of fear.

There is a Tibetan metaphor: “the bone of heart” (སྙིང་རུས།).

For today’s Tibetans, though the mores of the time are changing, though the authorities’ power is ever more devastating and dignity is met with contempt, “the bone of heart” can never be broken. The 100 self-immolators and many more Tibetans fighting for freedom are “the bone of heart.”

Beijing, December 9, 2012

Tsering Woeser is a Tibetan writer, blogger, and poet based in Beijing who documents the experiences of the Tibetan people in Mandarin Chinese. She lives under constant surveillance and is often under house arrest.