The People's Republic of China annexed Tibet in 1959, which has been a source of persistent social unrest in the region. Source: Reuters

A 19-year-old Tibetan man set himself on fire Wednesday in western China to protest government control over Tibetan-populated regions, and was taken away by authorities in an unknown condition.

U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) first reported the self-immolation on Feb. 8, which has since been confirmed by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) organization in Washington, D.C.

Tibetan monks Losang Yeshe and Kanyag Tsering living in exile in Dharamsala, India, told RFA--citing contacts within China--that the self-immolation occurred in Ngaba prefecture in Sichuan Province.

The protester appeared to be a monk, Yeshe and Tsering said, according to their sources. But his name and place of origin and other details are not known.

He was immediately taken away by soldiers and police, they said, adding that two other unidentified monks were also detained in the area.

Chinese media have not reported on the incident, and have a policy of censoring coverage of Tibetan protests.

History of Unrest

Since February 2009, 21 self-immolations have been documented in ethnic Tibetan regions under Chinese rule, according to ICT.

The acts are a form of political protest against the Chinese government, which officially established control over Tibet in 1959, resulting in the exile of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to India.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the country's ruling party since 1949, maintains that Tibet has historically been a part of China since the 13th century, when the Mongol-ruled Yuan Dynasty expanded its empire into the region.

Many Tibetans counter this argument, citing the region's periods of sovereignty, following the fall of the Yuan Dynasty.

In recent years, an influx of Han Chinese (China's predominant ethnic group) into Tibetan-populated regions has been a source of social tension. Han Chinese in these regions have been viewed as the primary benefactors economic development due to advantages of shared language and culture with policymakers and investors.

The majority of Tibetans have more and more difficulty accessing the state or private networks that control the dominant sources of wealth in the economy, said Andrew Fischer, a development economist, in an ICT report.

On March 14, 2008, riots broke out in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, following the arrests of monks non-violently protesting Chinese rule. Rioters targeted Han Chinese and their businesses, injuring 623 people, including 241 police, and resulting in the deaths of 19 civilians, according to Chinese state media. The Tibetan-government-in-exile reported at least 140 people were killed in the subsequent crackdown.

The Chinese government accused the Dalai Lama, then head of the Tibetan-government-in-exile, of inciting the riots. The Dalai Lama publicly condemned the violence on both sides, threatening to step down as political leader if it escalated.

In this context, self-immolations in Tibet encompass a far more expansive and complex understanding of the region's social unrest, which is likely to increase in proportion to the economic disparities between Tibetans and migrant Han Chinese.