Tibet Self-Immolations: Why People Set Themselves On Fire To Protest China
"It's now involving significant numbers of people," Barnett tells CBS News. "It's spreading gradually from a core area to a slightly wider area of the Tibetan plateau, and it's spreading among social classes. It is no longer just monks and nuns. It's now spreading to villagers, to older people, to students who are protesting."
Tenzin says resentment has built up in Tibetan communities as reforms implemented by the government in Beijing encourage Tibetans to forget their language, history and culture. He says the ethnic Han Chinese newcomers fail to understand or respect the Tibetans' connection to the land.
Instead of lessons about Rebkong's rich local history, he says students are taught "propaganda" about the Communist Party. "As a result we have become brainwashed. We are becoming less brave and less willing to tell the truth."
Classes in the local school system are taught in Mandarin Chinese, and Tenzin has watched younger people in Rebkong lose the ability to speak their native Tibetan language.
"Even if people try to not speak Chinese, it just comes out automatically, because they are more used to speaking Chinese than their own language," he says.
Signs of China's unbridled economic development are everywhere across the sprawling nation, but Tenzin says living standards for Tibetans have declined.
Thirty-storey buildings have replaced the small village homes of Tenzin's youth. He says the real estate boom, led by Han Chinese developers, has raised property prices so high that it is impossible for him and his friends to buy apartments close to home.
"China has been trying very hard to develop the Tibetan areas, but the Tibetan people themselves cannot afford to buy homes as a result of this economic development. The rich are becoming richer, and the poor are becoming poorer."
While people across China are battling similar challenges of high real estate prices and environmental degradation, Tenzin says the discrimination that Tibetans face compounds the misery of life in Rebkong.
"The government always says, 'you are part of China,' but they treat me like a foreigner," says Tenzin.
Han Chinese are favored over local Tibetans for the higher-paying jobs. Tenzin's friends with graduate degrees have resorted to manual labor to make ends meet. He says even when service sector jobs are offered to Tibetans, they come with lower wages than Han employees would get.
When he travels to other Chinese cities, he says some hotels turn him away.
"Sometimes there is a sign on the door that says no Tibetans or minorities. The racism is so explicit."
Tenzin believes a mounting sense of despair is behind the increase in Tibetan protests.
Public protests, which had been extremely rare in China, are increasing across the country as a rapidly growing middle class embraces the tools of the internet and tries to find its voice. But in Rebkong, the government responds to even small protests with full-scale military crackdowns.
The protests in other areas, which can be large and raucous, are generally over localized economic conditions, and they are easier to resolve.