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What exactly is happening with people setting themselves on fire in China?

The simple story is that it has to do with protests of rural houses being set for destruction because of China’s desire to urbanize; 41 people have lit themselves on fire (it’s called self-immolation) between January 2009 and January 2012 in the name of this cause.

I’m not sure the right word here is “ironic,” but Tibetan youths typically do this (I’m also not sure the right word is “typically,” because it’s not exactly a multiple-times-per-day situation) to protest Chinese policies.

The Chinese government considers self-immolation to be an act of terrorism.

I understand the central issue here — the Chinese, who have been defined by their rural areas for generations, are essentially picking death over eviction.¬†Additionally, there is no privately-held land in China, so the practices are ostensibly legal. What I don’t understand is that in China’s race to urbanize, it seems like it’s built a lot of “ghost cities:”

250 million are being moved into cities, but at the same time, smog concerns are shutting down cities of 11 million people.

There is a lot to like about China as a global economic power and a (relatively) consistent culture over time, but this urban uprooting seems to potentially be achieving more harm than good.

Ted Bauer

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