BEIJING — About a year and a half after Peng Liyuan, a well-known Chinese folk singer and the wife of Xi Jinping, the man tapped to be China’s next leader, performed the “Laundry Song” on national television in August 2007, Tibetans began a wave of self-immolations.

The two events weren’t linked, but they point to an irony: The “Laundry Song” is a nearly 50-year-old propaganda classic, meant to persuade Tibetans of the People’s Liberation Army’s virtues, but its spirit clearly doesn’t resonate with the more than 60 men and women who have burned themselves to death protesting the Communist Party’s rule over Tibet. Here’s the first verse of the song, which can be heard in full by clicking on the video footage above:
“Hey! Who is going to help us turn over a new leaf?
Who is going to liberate us?
It’s the dear P.L.A.,
The saving star of the Communist Party.
The army and the people are one family,
Helping us to wash our clothes.”
And here is footage of the original performance of the song in Beijing in 1964, as identified by High Peaks Pure Earth, an overseas-based Tibetan Web site. “The song tells the familiar Socialist narrative of the army and the people being one,” High Peaks Pure Earth wrote.
“For the Sino-Tibetan relationship though, the song puts the Tibetans firmly in a position of subservience, as natives, full of gratitude for the help of the benevolent People’s Liberation Army. The trope of washing clothes fits in also with the Socialist preoccupation with Patriotic Hygiene,” since “observing hygiene rules came to be seen as patriotic,” it wrote.
Five years after Ms. Peng’s spirited rendition was aired by the state broadcaster CCTV, the shocking, early flickers of self-immolations appear to be spreading into something more like a horrifying and persistent fire. On Tuesday, a 58-year-old farmer, Dorje Rinchen, became the 63rd Tibetan to choose this way to die, according to the Tibetan poet and dissident Woeser, writing (in Chinese) on her blog, Invisible Tibet. Be warned: The blog entry includes very disturbing photos of the self-immolation. Woeser writes that Dorje Rinchen left behind a wife, a son and a daughter.
Xinhua, the state news agency, confirmed that a 58-year-old man had set fire to himself and died “near Labrang Monastery in Xiahe County” at 3.30 p.m. on Tuesday. It didn’t name him in the four-sentence report that ended: “The local government is handling the incident.”
The advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet keeps a list of the self-immolators here.
The impact of the suicides appears to be spreading. Last month the United States ambassador to China, Gary Locke, made his first visit to a Tibetan area of Sichuan Province and was photographed shaking hands with an 88-year-old monk, as my colleague Edward Wong reported.
Locally, too, there are new responses: officials appear to be offering rewards for information.
On her Twitter account, Woeser posted a photo of a notice she said was issued by police in a Tibetan area of Gansu Province on Oct. 21, two days before the most recent death. The notice offered large cash rewards for “reliable clues” about self-immolations (50,000 renminbi, or $8,000) and for information about the “black hands,” or masterminds, purported to be behind them (200,000 renminbi).
Tellingly, perhaps, the notice assured informants that the money would be passed to them discreetly and that their identities would be protected.
What does the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader in exile, say about the self-immolations?
“I am quite certain that those who sacrificed their lives with sincere motivation, for Buddha dharma and for the well-being of the people, from the Buddhist or religious view points, is positive,” he told NBC in a recent interview.
“But if these acts are carried out with full anger and hatred, then it is wrong,” he said. “So it is difficult to judge. But it is really very sad, very very sad.”

NOTE-- The author writes for International Herald Tribune and the above article is initially publish on IHT

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