Not known for its sense of humor, the Chinese Communist Party’s official mouthpiece apparently fell for a parody by The Onion, the satirical newspaper and Web site, when it reported Tuesday in some online editions of People’s Daily that Kim Jong-un, the young, chubby North Korean ruler, had been named the “Sexiest Man Alive for 2012.”
Or did it?
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) setbacks in a remote corner of Sichuan province, Aba prefecture (more accurately, the Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture), may in time be seen as the beginning of the end of its authoritarian reign.
Today, Aba is in the news because of a string of self-immolations at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, Kirti, on the outskirts of a county town in Aba, in response to a brutal government crackdown.
Aba was also in the news in 2008, when an earthquake in the southeastern corner of the prefecture, Wenchuan, killed tens of thousands.
At first, China was hailed internationally for its massive and timely relief effort in the aftermath of the quake. But the focus rapidly shifted to the death of schoolchildren attributed to shoddy construction practices abetted by corrupt local authorities, the ensuing cover-up, and heavy-handed mismanagement of the compensation and reconstruction process.
The Wenchuan earthquake was a radicalizing experience for Chinese artists and intellectuals like Ai Weiwei, who was beaten up while in Chongqing to offer support to a local activist on trial for pursuing the substandard school construction story in Wenchuan. The government reaction to their activism validated - or at least self-validated - their critique of the Chinese communist system and its methods, and created a hard kernel of resistance that persists to this day. 
From a public relations standpoint, the CCP might as well shoveled one trillion yuan (US$158 billion) down a hole. The abiding international memory of Wenchuan is Ai Weiwei’s mawkish installation of schoolchildren’s backpacks in Berlin, ”She lived happily on this earth for seven years.” 
Ai’s recent incarceration - and his reincarnation as a martyr to China’s selective enforcement of its income tax laws - appears to show that the CCP has not come up with any good new ideas on how to deal with critics of its rule.
2008 also saw China’s $40 billion grab at the brass ring of international legitimacy - the Beijing Summer Olympic Games.
The Olympics turned into something of an expensive disappointment, primarily because the West was conspicuously unwilling to welcome China on the world stage as an equal partner.
It was easy and more consoling for China to blame the messenger - the storm of pro-Tibetan independence demonstrations and provocations that disrupted the passage of the Olympic flame throughout the world and roiled towns and monasteries in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and Tibetan areas of Gansu and Sichuan around March 10 (the anniversary of the 1959 Lhasa uprising against Chinese rule) in the Olympic year. 
Kirti Monastery in Aba county, Aba prefecture was the scene of violent outbursts in 2008. Indeed the Chinese government publicized them as part of its campaign to assert the non-peaceful/subversive nature of Tibetan dissatisfaction.
According to credible reports, at least 10 and possibly as many as 28 ethnic Tibetans in the small town, including monks, lay people, and one child, died in confrontations with security forces in March 2008.
On March 16, 2011, on the third anniversary of the shootings, a monk at Kirti, Phuntsok Jarutsang, self-immolated.
Chinese security forces put out the flames but then, according to reports of Tibetan emigre groups, detained Phuntsok and subsequently beat him to death.
If the government’s objective was to deny the Tibetan independence movement a martyr by dousing the flames, and then discourage prospective imitators by administering a fatal beating, the effort failed miserably.
Phuntsok’s death provoked sizable demonstrations at the monastery that reportedly resulted in beatings and the death of two lay people at the hands of security forces, and five subsequent immolations in Kirti in September and October 2011 - out of a total of 12 self-immolations in Tibetan regions this year.
If, on the other hand, the intention was to escalate a confrontation to a point at which monasteries and monks who refuse to knuckle under are completely broken, the policy may be said to be working.
Aba prefecture was once advertised as a showcase for a moderate approach to the PRC’s relation with ethnic Tibetans. In the case of Aba, that promise has been honored, as it were, in the breach.
In April 2011 a convoy of military vehicles ferried away 300 of Kirti’s estimated 2,500 monks off for Patriotic Re-education, whose salient feature apparently is to demoralize the monks by compelling them under physical and emotional duress to denounce the Dalai Lama.
The remaining monks were divided into groups of 20 for what Radio Free Asia termed ”patriotic religion” meetings. The outlet stated that two monks received three-year jail terms in May 2011 for speaking out during a meeting. 
The government also labored to place the blame for Phuntsok’s death on his fellow monks instead of the regime, sentencing three of them to 10-year-plus terms for ”intentional homicide” for helping Phuntsok plan the immolation and - according to the court - spiriting him away after the incident, thereby denying him life-saving medical treatment.