Thich Quang Duc: The Burning Monk

The Buddhist monk, Thich Quang Duc set himself on fire on June 11, 1963, in Saigon as a form of protest against the killings of Buddhists by the South Vietnam government of President Ngo Dinh Diem. Thich never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound while in the fire, and he was at the lotus position till his death. Photography: Malcolm Wilde Browne/Associated Press


Thich Quang Duc was a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who set himself ablaze to death at a busy Saigon road intersection on 11 June 1963. Quang Duc was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government led by Ngo Dinh Diem. The period is also known as the “Buddhist Crisis in Vietnam.”

At the time, the civilian upheaval against the predominantly Catholic government of President Ngo Dinh Diem, which was supported by the United States.

Photographs of his self-immolation were circulated widely across the world and brought attention to the policies of the Diem government. US President John F. Kennedy said in reference to a photograph of Duc on fire, “No news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.”

Although the Buddhists constituted a majority of the Vietnamese, Catholics enjoyed special privileges under Diem’s regime. These privileges were resented by the Buddhists, who began establishing religious and secular organizations to create and activate more political and social awareness.

The crisis was precipitated by the shootings of nine unarmed civilians on 8 May 1963 in Hue during a demonstration. Following this incident, street demonstrations by Buddhist monks and nuns demanding political reform and religious freedom became frequent and were violently suppressed by the government.

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1963 Photo Contest, World Press Photo of the Year. Photography: Malcolm W. Browne

Journalist Malcolm Browne’s photograph of Thich Quang Duc during his self-immolation, won the 1963 World Press Photo of the Year. Malcolm also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for International Reporting.

About Photographer Malcolm W. Browne:

Malcolm W. Browne, 1964

Malcolm Wilde Browne was born on 17 April 1931 in New York City. Browne, a graduate in chemistry, started his journalistic career when he was drafted during the Korean War. He was one of the first American journalists to cover the war in Vietnam. His insightful reporting earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 when he worked with Associated Press. Malcolm died on 28 August 2012 from complications related to Parkinson’s disease, with which he was diagnosed in 2000.

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