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In this paper, the rate equations for semiconductor bi-stable lasers are analyzed. Bistability and self-pulsation conditions are deduced, respectively. The former corresponds to a persistently increasing solution for the small-signal equations, while the latter corresponds to an enhanced oscillating solution. Bistability and self-pulsation are both "third-order" nonlinear phenomena, but the latter takes place only when the gain coefficient possesses a certain nonlinearity.