BEIJING (AP) — Because safety comes first, fire extinguishers are ubiquitous in and around Beijing's Great Hall of the People during the annual sessions of China's ceremonial parliament and its official advisory body. That's partly for standard purposes of preventing any sort of fire-related emergency.
However, it also speaks to the fear of self-immolation as a form of dissent in China, acting as a safeguard against any rogue elements who might infiltrate the gathering in hopes of staging a grisly protest.
In January 2001, five purported followers of the banned Falun Gong meditation sect set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square in front of the hall in what was believed to be an extreme protest against official repression.
Scores of Tibetans have also set themselves on fire in recent years to protest Chinese government controls over Buddhism and call for the return of the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.