Nhat Chi Mai

Nhat Chi Mai

Nhất Chi Mai (February 20, 1934 - May 16, 1967) born Phan Thị Mai and legally named Thích nữ Diệu Huỳnh, is best known as a female Buddhist who burned herself in an act of self-immolation in Saigon on May 16, 1967 in protest of the Vietnam War.



She was born on February 20, 1934 in the Thai Hiep Thanh commune in the province of Tay Ninh. In 1956 she graduated from the National Teacher's School. In 1964 she graduated from the University of Saigon Faculty of Letters, and in 1966 she graduated from the Truong Van Hanh Buddhist College.[1] She became an elementary school teacher at Tan Dinh in Saigon after graduation. While in Saigon, she actively participated in the group "Youth Serving Society" and taught within various orphanages.[2] During this time she was a student of Thich Nhat Hanh and was deeply influenced by his vision of Engaged Buddhism. Along with Sister Chan Khong she was one of the first six lay people ordained in Nhat Hanh's Buddhist order, the Order of Interbeing in February 1966.[3]

Preceding immolations

On June 11, 1963 Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk burned himself to death at a busy Saigon road intersection. Duc was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's Ngô Đình Diệm administration. Photos of his self-immolation, taken by Malcolm Browne, were widely circled internationally, and brought attention to the policies of the Diệm regime.

On March 16, 1965 Alice Herz, an 82 year old pacifist, immolated herself on a Detroit street corner in protest of the Vietnam War. A man and his boys put out the flames, but she died of her wounds ten days later. Herz remarked that she had used all the protest methods available to activists: marching, protesting, writing articles, letters. She believed there was nothing else left for her to do.

On November 2, 1965, Norman Morrison, a Baltimore Quaker, doused himself in kerosene and set himself on fire below Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's Pentagon office.

Political suicide

On May 16, 1967 at 7:20 a.m., in District 10 of Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City in front of the Tu Nghiem Pagoda, Nhat Chi Mai lit herself on fire using a petrol accelerant. She was 33 years old when she died from her burns. Prior to her self-immolation she wrote ten messages outlining her anti-war beliefs and calling for an end to the Vietnam War.[4]


  1. ^ Buddhist Biography Nhat Chi Mai
  2. ^ Phan Thi Mai (1934-1967)
  3. ^ Chan Khong, Sister. (2007). Learning True Love. Berkeley: Parallax Press, p. 133.
  4. ^ Topmiller, RJ. Struggling for Peace: South Vietnamese Buddhist Women and Resistance to the Vietnam War. Journal of Women's History. 2005.

Further reading

  • Chan Khong, Sister. (2007). Learning True Love. Berkeley: Parallax Press. See especially chapter 8, "Sister Mai," pp. 163–183.
  • Nhat Hanh, Thich. (1993). "The Path of the Return Continues the Journey" in Love in Action: Writings on Nonviolent Social Change. Berkeley: Parallax Press. pp. 12–37.
  • Nhat Hanh, Thich & Daniel Berrigan. (2001). The Raft is not the Shore. Maryknoll (NY): Orbis Books. Especially the chapter on self immolation pp. 63–73.

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