Chinese Artist Memorializes Tibetan Self-Immolators

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A Chinese painter named Liu Yi is showing his respect for Tibetans who self-immolated - by painting their portraits.

50-year-old Liu started the project last year, and now has 40 small black and white oil paintings in his Beijing studio. He painted them from photographs of the self-immolators he found online and received from a Tibetan friend.

Liu is also a follower of Tibetan Buddhism, and he says he wants to highlight the people behind the photos. He hopes to bring attention to the issue while the media in the Mainland and many Chinese citizens remain silent.

[Liu Yi, Artist]:
"The vast majority of Chinese intellectuals have vested interests and don't dare to speak out. I think this is a disgrace. Painting these [people] is my way of showing my gratitude to them. I think they are truly great."

A recent random survey by Radio Free Asia found that mainland Chinese are mostly sympathetic to the plight of Tibetans. However, they do not necessarily support the self-immolation protests against Chinese rule.

Liu said he did not support the self-immolations, either, but he urged the leaders of China to listen to the concerns of Tibetans to help solve the crisis.

[Liu Yi, Artist]:
"The two sessions are taking place now, and I hope the Chinese government can really reflect on their policy towards ethnic groups. First of all, they should let more people understand it. The media should not stay silent on this, as they have until now. They should allow more people to understand the truth. By doing this, they would make Chinese people more compassionate on the Tibetan issue. Everyone could be more compassionate."

Liu said he has been under pressure from authorities who told him not to give interviews, and questioned him about his connections to Tibetans. Liu said he has no plans to stop painting the portraits.

Around 107 Tibetans have set themselves on fire thus far to protest China's policies in the region. In recent weeks, over a dozen Tibetans have been detained in connection with the self-immolations.

Human rights groups have criticized Chinese authorities for criminalizing the burnings.

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