A Chinese man named Wang lies down on the ground in front of Mao Zedong's portrait after police put off flames from his body in the Tiananmen Square on October 21, 2011.
DHARAMSHALA, November 18: In what is being seen as the first act of self-immolation in mainland China following the recent wave of self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet, a Chinese man set himself on fire in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, the scene of the 1989 pro-democracy protests.
The incident happened on October 21 in broad daylight, steps away from the giant portrait of Mao Zedong but Chinese state agencies effectively censored all information over the protest from the media as well as social networking sites and blogs for nearly a month.
Thanks to a photograph taken by a British couple, who were at the Square, and were later published by The Daily Telegraph and BBC, the Chinese man’s sacrifice didn’t get rubbished as another rumour.
The Daily Telegraph reported that after being shown the photograph, the incident was confirmed on Wednesday by the press department of the Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) which is responsible for monitoring and maintaining social order in China.
"At around 11 o'clock on Oct. 21, 2011, [a man surnamed] Wang walked to the spot near Jinshui bridge, and suddenly set his clothes on fire. The policemen at the scene extinguished the fire within ten seconds and sent the man to hospital for treatment," the Daily Telegraph quoted a faxed statement from the Bureau.
"He has now pulled through. After investigation, Wang (male, 42, resident of Huanggang city, Hubei province) took the extreme action because of discontent over the outcome of a civil litigation in a local court."
Alan Brown, 59, who had witnessed the self-immolation, told the Daily Telegraph he had been astonished by the speed at which the security forces had stepped in to douse the flames and then erase any trace 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 … 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".
Writing in his blog, Peter Foster, the Beijing based Daily Telegraph reporter pointed out that without the photographic evidence, Mr Wang's self-immolation would have been another subversive "rumour" to suppress.
“This is the single biggest problem facing the Chinese state, the one from which all its other difficulties flow: the absence of truth,” Foster wrote.