On Wednesday morning at about 8:10 a.m., seven people who had traveled together to Beijing from southeastern Jiangsu province met outside the offices of the China Youth Daily newspaper. They carried with them black bottles containing pesticides, which they opened and quickly drank.
In rural China, consuming pesticides is one of the most common methods of suicide; the seven chose this as an act of desperate protest. Petition papers that lay askew, near where the five men and two women fell unconscious on the pavement, indicate that the group had come to Beijing to petition national authorities to intervene over land seizures and forced demolitions in their hometown.
Photos of the seven lying on the ground, all wearing white t-shirts, were distributed widely over Chinese social media. Soon police and ambulances arrived, and the victims were taken to local hospitals. According to China newspaper reports, they remained alive and in stable condition as of Thursday evening.
The group’s troubles started last year, when the local government in Sihong county seized their lands without proper documentation, demolished their homes, and paid them a pittance in compensation—less than a third of market value, according to a report in Global Times. Members of the group first petitioned local authorities to intervene last September, to no avail. Some petitioners were later held in so-called “black jails,” or extra-legal detention centers, in Jiangsu. In May, they met in Beijing with a reporter from China Youth Daily in an effort to get their story out. No article was published.
In the U.K., the Telegraph published an account of having reached the wife of one of the men who attempted suicide yesterday. Saying she had not known her husband’s intentions, Qin Zeying explained their predicament: “We had no other option but to resort to this to make ourselves heard. We have lost our house. We have lost everything. We’ve been driven to homelessness. We’ve been driven into a corner—the government gave us no way out.”