Photos Disappear After Car Strikes Crowd at Tiananmen Square, Killing 5

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Reuters

Vehicles travel along Chang'an Avenue as smoke raises in front of a portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square in Beijing Oct. 28, 2013.

Updated: 11:12 AM EST October 28, 2013. 

The photographs struck the web with the force of thunder. Early Monday afternoon Beijing time, pictures emerged of what appeared to be a fiery crash in central Beijing, showing a vehicle ablaze at the north end of Tiananmen Square, a black plume of smoke rising just feet from the over-sized portrait of Chairman Mao. Rumors swirled: Could this be an accident? Was it a terror attack? A self-immolation? Police confirmed the crash, but said little else. Five people were dead in total, three of them in the jeep. At least 38 others in the square had been injured, according to Xinhua, China’s government-controlled newswire. The city waited for more details.

We’re still waiting. So powerful are China’s crowd and information control that hours after the incident, basic details are left unknown or obscured. Officials confirmed that a car veered into a crowd, leading to death and injuries. Beyond that: nothing. Online, it was a different story. Images posted on social media and blogs showed the SUV completely engulfed in flames, smoke visible hundreds of meters away. But authorities made quick work to contain the situation. By mid-afternoon the square was barricaded, with a line of security officials blocking all pedestrian traffic. Police officers told bystanders, including many tourists, to turn and walk the other away. A plainclothes agent used a handheld video camera to film those who lingered near the gate.

Whether by accident or act of protest, the car struck China’s literal and symbolic heart. This is the very center of the capital: To the north lies the Forbidden City, the old imperial palace, which today is one of the city’s top tourist destinations. To the west sits the Great Hall of the People, the seat of parliament, as well as Zhongnanhai, the closely-guarded compound that houses the country’s top leaders. Mao’s mausoleum lies to the South.

The square is also a symbol of resistance. It was here that students gathered in 1989 to call for political reform—and here that they were killed. Information about what happened that summer is still carefully censored, as, quite often, is the word ‘Tiananmen’ itself. A man set himself alight in the square in 2011, amid a string of fiery protests in China’s Tibetan areas. In 2003, another man, despondent over being forcibly located, survived a similar attempt. If you want to run afoul of China’s security apparatus, head to the square with a political placard or a news camera. It may be the most-guarded place in China.

With little information to go on, China’s micro blogging sites were rife with speculation, and, as is common, black humor. “Perhaps they could not see the guardrail because of the smog,” joked one netizen. “They should have hit the portrait on the wall,” said another.

Few believe it was an accident, but there is no hard evidence either way. And that probably won’t change: By early evening, the dramatic photographs started disappearing from the web—scrubbed, it seems, by China’s censors.

-With reporting from Gu Yongqiang / Beijing

10 comments
lidatobe
lidatobe

you have a deeply rooted prejudice against China

paragon88
paragon88

A BBC team that went to the site to gather footage said that they were detained for around 20 minutes before being released.

AFP news agency said that two of its reporters were also held close to the square, with images deleted from their cameras.


Did the american government take the photos away from our american reporters?  There is nothing "normal" about the CCP.

PhillipRaney
PhillipRaney

So the truth of the story is, a bus that contained several tourist hit a guardrail, lost control, and caught on fire. One can read it all over any Chinese news sight if you can read Chinese characters. Nothing hidden, or controlled, or censored, but then that is not good sensational journalism now is it. Even the BBC reported on it correctly. It's front and center news on CCCV, on QQ, and about every other site. The area was closed for safty reasons, in exactly the same was the area in front of the Whitehouse was closed off after the woman and the car wreck incident.

HarryKuheim
HarryKuheim

Team Obama is good at burying any news or events unflattering for them too.

spookiewriter
spookiewriter

@HarryKuheim Yea, just like the time he covered up the News that no WMD's were found in Iraq. Or the time Obama said that the mission was accomplished in Iraq.

shuami
shuami

@HarryKuheim The real question is: has the Chinese media tried to "cover it up", or has the Time tried to "hype it up"? Your post here seems to assume that the Chinese media have tried to "bury" this news, while there is no evidence to suggest that is the case.

spookiewriter
spookiewriter

@william1 Thank you. I was wondering when some idiot would stick US politics into something that has nothing to do with the President.


shuami
shuami

@HarryKuheim:

Obama can send drones to Pakistan, but I haven't heard that he's managed to send one over TAM Square. I am afraid Obama has nothing to do with this accident, and whether he's " qualified or competent enough for his Office" has no bearing with the topic here.