Tibetan protest self-immolation in China: Reflections on ecology, health and politics


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    Purpose: This chapter explores the protest self-immolations since 2009 of over 100 Tibetans in China. It investigates whether these events have ecological as well as social causes and may thus be relevant to the emerging discipline of 'EcoHealth'. Method: Targeted literature review and reflective analysis, presented as a narrative. Findings: Chinese citizens identifying as Tibetan have experienced substantial ethnically based discrimination for over 60 years, manifest as attempted cultural destruction, pervasive disrespect and linguistic suppression. Tibetans, now a minority in much of their former territory, have witnessed and at times been forced to participate in ecological destruction, much of it led by Chinese settlers, endorsed by occupying authorities. Tibetans have for decades protested against the Chinese they regard as invaders and occupiers, but Tibetan acts of protest self-immolation are a recent response. Academic analysis has been scarce, particularly by Chinese scholars. Until now, EcoHealth practitioners have also denied any relevance, as if in a waltz led by the Chinese government. Practical and social implications: Attempts to identify rational causes for Tibetan self-immolation conflict with themes of liberation and fairness central to Communist Chinese ideology. Most Chinese analysis of Tibetan self-immolation is superficial, nationalistic and unsympathetic. Also disturbing is the reaction to these issues shown by the International Association of Ecology and Health. It is suggested that this illustrates a failure to translate rhetoric of 'speaking truth to power' to reality, a retreat from idealism common to many social movements. Originality and value: Increasing human demand on a limited biosphere necessitates a deepened understanding of eco-social factors. Practitioners concerned with sustaining our civilisation are encouraged to explore the integrated dimensions revealed by this case study. Copyright © 2013 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)67-89
    Number of pages23
    JournalAdvances in Medical Sociology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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