A Chinese Man Set Himself on Fire in Tiananmen Square Last Month

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A self-immolation took place in the heart of China's capital city last month, but it has taken weeks for the news to leak out via foreign tourists. Police acted immediately to put out the fire and the man who did it has reportedly recovered.

The incident, which took place on October 21, has gone completely unreported on China's heavily censored state media and social networks, despite being witnessed by hundreds of onlookers in the middle of day. After The Daily Telegraph published a photo of the man in the UK this week, government officials have finally admitted that the incident took place and that the 42-year-old man "took the extreme action because of discontent over the outcome of a civil litigation in a local court."

According to the British tourist who gave his photo to the Telepgraph, security forces worked quickly to erase any traces of the distrubance within moments of it happening.

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.

It's the first known incident of a self-immolation in Bejing since 2001, when five members of the Falun Gong set themselves on fire in protest of government oppression. However, there have been 11 instance of people committing the act in Tibet this year, so even while there's no proof of a political motive, one might suspect that such an extreme action is more than just a disgruntled court litigant.

The man set himself on fire just steps from a large public portrait of Mao Zedong, in one of the most highly trafficked, yet highly policed areas of the country, where security forces are constantly on alert for signs of unrest. A Japanese tourist also posted an audio clip of the moment along with another photography on YouTube.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.