The last self-immolation on Tiananmen Square is supposed to have taken place ten years ago but whether it actually took place remains highly disputed.
Peter Foster of The Daily Telegraph breaks the story of a man who set himself on fire October 21 on Tiananmen Square, but the incident appeared nowhere in Chinese news media. Here’s what happened according to a reader who witnessed the incident:
“The man did it right in front of me. He stepped over the low railing in front of the cycle-lane that runs past the picture of Chairman Mao. He was only two or three metres away from me,” recalled Alan Brown, a retired RAF Engineer from Somerton, Somerset.
“He said something quickly and a policeman nearby was suddenly agitated, but this chap whipped out his lighter and set himself on fire. Without being melodramatic, he looked straight at me and set himself on fire.
“The policeman initially leapt back and then grabbed a fire extinguisher from his motorbike and put the man out,” added Mr Brown, who was holidaying in China with his wife, Pamela.
Security forces stepped in quickly to erase all traces of the incident:
“There were lots of people taking pictures at the time, so I was surprised not to hear anything about on the news afterwards, so I thought that it should at least come to light.
“After it happened, the street cleaners were working almost straight away.
If anyone had arrived five or ten minutes later they would have seen nothing. By the time we reached the balcony overlooking the square, there was no sign of what had happened. Everything had gone.”
The Beijing PSB has confirmed the incident, saying the man took the drastic action “because of discontent over the outcome of a civil litigation in a local court” but has since pulled through.
The last self-immolation on Tiananmen Square is supposed to have taken place ten years ago on the eve of Chinese New Year on 23 January 2001 but whether it actually took place remains highly disputed. The Chinese government maintains that five members of the banned religious group Falungong set themselves on fire on the square to protest against unjust treatment while Falungong maintains it was staged by authorities to sway public opinion against the sect.
Also read: Tiananmen Square self-immolation: where truth is swept away into a dustman’s cart, by Peter Foster