Police in Beijing confirmed Thursday that a man set himself on fire last month over a court dispute in a rare case of such protest in Tiananmen Square, the politically sensitive center of China's capital.
The police said officers at the scene quickly extinguished the fire and that the 42-year-old man, surnamed Wang, survived, in what is thought to be the first self-immolation attempt at the site of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in five years.
The incident was first reported by Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper, which was given a photo by a British tourist who witnessed it. In the three weeks since, there have been no reports in the Chinese media on it. Usually information on such events seeps out through social media outlets.
Self-immolations happen occasionally in China, usually as last-ditch protests from people upset the government has not addressed their complaints. Earlier this month, an 81-year-old woman died after setting herself on fire in her bedroom as a demolition team led by local officials were trying to knock down her home in Henan province.
Although not related, the incidents last month and this month come amid a string of 11 self-immolations in China in recent months involving monks, former monks and nuns protesting Chinese rule in Tibet.
The Beijing Public Security Bureau said that in the October case, the man set himself on fire on the northern edge of the square near the photo of Mao Zedong. Policemen at the scene put out the flames and took Wang to a hospital.
"He has now pulled through. According to an 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," the statement said.
Since 1989 security around the square, historically a gathering place for protests, has been extremely tight and such incidents are rare.
In 2006, a construction worker hoping to get back pay owed to him set himself on fire on the square, but the flames were quickly extinguished and the man was hospitalized.
And in 2003, a laid-off worker set himself on fire on the square, two weeks after another man had set himself ablaze to protest the demolition of his home. Both were hospitalized for injuries.
In January 2001, five people set themselves on fire on Tiananmen in an incident that Chinese authorities blamed on the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement. Two of the people _ a woman and her 12-year-old daughter _ died.