25-year old Tibetan singer self-immolation protest ahead of China’s invasion of Tibet anniversary

A popular Tibetan singer named Tsewang Norbu has died after the February 25th self-immolation attempt. According to sources, Norbu shouted slogans and set himself on fire last week in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital. The Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) broke the news on 4th March.

“Tsewang Norbu tried to protest the Chinese government by attempting to self-immolate and according to few of my reliable sources from inside Tibet, (he) has died,” a Tibetan living in exile told RFA. The date and place of his death could not be verified immediately. RFA also could not reach Norbu’s family and relatives in Lhasa.

Learning about this tragic news, Tenzin Bhagen, founder and tour leader of Tashi Delek Travel based in Washington DC, posted on his facebook page: “Another sad news. His mother, who I personally know, is the first China’s version of Tibetan Idol who won national music contest in Beijing and since then became one of the most well-known Tibetan singers. Her brother, or his uncle is the longest serving Tibetan political prisoner, Sogkhar Lodoe Gyatso, who is still in prison.”

Bhagen also wrote that Tsewang Norbu had “won many prestigious China’s national music awards. His father is said to be a well-known composer in Nagchu Prefecture.” He further added, “Tsewang Norbu constantly had to struggle with the Chinese authorities who were not happy about his name [being] written in Tibetan language and his songs titled in Tibetan and English, instead all in Chinese.”

According to Bhagen, Tsewang Norbu’s mother’s hometown is Sog, neighbor to Driru, which is the most restricted area within Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and communication in these areas has been completely blocked at least after 2013 protests.

This latest self-immolation by Tsewang Norbu, which took place in front of the iconic Potala Palace, the winter palace of the Dalai Lamas from 1649 until 1959, when the current 14th Dalai Lama was forced into exile to India, is a stark reminder of China’s continued repression in Tibet. Tibetans continue to resist Chinese rule even after seven decades of illegal occupation of their country by Communist China.

As the Chinese authorities do not allow any conventional form of protests in China’s occupied-Tibet, Norbu’s self-immolation is a desperate act to defy Chinese rule. Since 2009, over 158 Tibetans in Tibet have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule in Tibetan areas, and another eight have taken their lives in Nepal and India.

The timing of Norbu’s drastic protest comes ahead of a sensitive time for the Chinese government when its security forces in Tibetan areas are under high alert. On Thursday, 10 March, Tibetans worldwide will commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising Day when tens of thousands of Tibetans in Lhasa rose up on this day in 1959 against the invading Chinese forces. [ Read this piece by Tsering Passang Why Tibetans worldwide Commemorate March 10th? ]

The comment section on Norbu’s social media accounts have been deactivated due to an abundant inflow of condolence messages, while many of his songs are now removed from many Chinese music apps, the source said.

A singer and composer of modern, ethnic, popular, traditional songs, Norbu released the songs “Tsampa”, “Dress Up” and “Except You” among many that were popular among the Tibet community at home and abroad.

The previous report of a self-immolation was that of a 26-year-old man named Shurmo, who set himself ablaze in September 2015 in the Tibet Autonomous Region’s Nagchu (Chinese, Naqu) county. His death was confirmed only in January of last year.

The dragonian grip in Tibet by the Chinese government means that the flow of information to the outside world continues to be much more difficult. The authorities deploy sensitive surveillance measures on mobile phones and online communication tools to stop the flow of information out of Tibet.

Within days of learning this tragic news of Tsewang Norbu’s self-immolation, the exiled Tibetan community has been engaging in Buddhist prayer as well as public protests around the world. Many share the story through their social media networks to help with educating others.

On her LinkedIn page, Tenzin W from London, wrote, “He was protesting against the brutal Chinese oppression in Tibet where there’s no freedom of speech, religion or action. Not since they invaded Tibet in 1959.”

She further added, “That’s why His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to escape to India that year, followed by hundreds of thousands of Tibetans over the years, including my parents. They were just kids when they fled and walked across the Himalayas at night, hiding from Chinese troops during the day. We were refugees in India.

“Since 2009, there have been 158 Tibetans who died by self-immolation. 𝟏𝟓𝟖 tragic lives lost in the most horrific way, because the world’s media and journalists aren’t allowed to see the real Tibet. 

“As a nation of peace loving people, this is their desperate cry to remind the world about China’s brutality and the dire situation Tibetans are in.”

Tenzin W concludes by stating, “I’m sharing this photo of Tsewang Norbu because although the world’s media will not report about his death, I don’t want his untimely passing to be in vain.

“I want to help spread his message that Tibetans in Tibet have been suffering for 63 years, and despite China’s brainwashing and attempts at ethnic cleansing, we will always remain proud Tibetans, not Chinese.”

When the world witnesses the ongoing unprovoked aggression on Ukraine by Russia under Putin, for Tibetans this is clearly reminiscent of Communist China’s illegal occupation of Tibet under Mao Tsetung. Since China’s invasion of Tibet over 1 million Tibetans have died.

(On this day 63 years ago – 9th March 1959)

March 9, 1959. At 8.00 am two Chinese officers visited the commander of His Holiness the Dalai Lama bodyguards’ house and asked him to accompany them to see Brigadier Fu at the Chinese military headquarters in Lhasa. Brigadier Fu told him that on the following day there was to be no customary ceremony as His Holiness the Dalai Lama moved from the Norbulinka summer palace to the army headquarters, two miles beyond. No armed bodyguard was to escort him and no Tibetan soldiers would be allowed beyond the Stone Bridge – a landmark on the perimeter of the sprawling army camp.

By custom, an escort of twenty-five armed guards always accompanied His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the entire city of Lhasa would line up whenever he went. Brigadier Fu told the commander of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s bodyguards that under no circumstances should the Tibetan army cross the Stone bridge and the entire procedure must be kept strictly secret.

The Chinese camp had always been an eyesore for the Tibetans and the fact that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was now to visit it would surely create greater anxiety amongst the Tibetans.

Author: Tsering Passang (Tsamtruk)

NGO Professional | Activist | Author | Founder and Chairman, Global Alliance for Tibet & Persecuted Minorities (GATPM)

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