[CEFC Taipei X The Center for Political Thought, Academia Sinica] Sacrificed bodies, sanctified bodies: Self-immolation by fire in Tibet



Sacrificed Bodies, Sanctified Bodies:

Self-immolation by Fire in Tibet

 March 3, 2020
14:30 – 17:30
 Conference Room 1,
Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences,
Academia Sinica



In 2008, more than 150 demonstrations, mostly peaceful, engulfed the entire Tibetan Plateau. The repression was nonetheless very severe. However, Tibetans have continued to express their rejection of a certain number of Chinese policies and from this year on and invented various peaceful tactics, the most drastic being self-immolations. To date, 154 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in Tibet and 10 in exile. This phenomenon, of a magnitude completely unknown in Tibet, has led to many comments, from Tibetans as well as Westerners. While the number of immolations is now clearly decreasing (1 in 2019), it seems important to return to these tragic gestures and put them in context in order to identify the reasons for their appearance, their multiplication in 2012 (86), while since 2013 their number has decreased sharply. The question of the funerals of the immolators will also be addressed: although the vast majority of them are ordinary monastics or lay people, the immolators are entitled, if the Tibetans manage to take possession of the body, to the type of funerals reserved for beings considered as “saints”. Qualified as “hero” (dpa’ bo) by the Tibetans, a term rendered by the word “martyr” when Tibetans speak in English, the immolator is sanctified by his act, as this communication will show.


Katia Buffetrille is an antropologist, specialist of Tibetan studies, researcher at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE), Sorbonne, Paris. Her interests focus on Tibetan cultural and political issues in the context of PRC rule, ‘popular’ rituals and their changes (pilgrimages around sacred mountains, ritual for local deities), issues on current Buddhist phenomena (vegetarianism, self-immolations, etc). She has written numerous articles and books, among them L’âge d’or du Tibet: XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (2019, Belles Lettres).


French Centre for Research on Contemporary China – Taipei

The Centre for Political Thought, Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences, Academia Sinica

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