As more than a billion Chinese across the country welcomed the first day of the Year of the Monkey with food, gifts and family outings on Monday, a desperate member of a group of petitioners drank pesticide in an attempted suicide on Tiananmen Square, according to an eyewitness.
"There was a group of people who arrived at about 1 p.m. who seemed to be from the same family," Hunan petitioner and eyewitness Huang Guangyu, told RFA on Monday. "One of them started to drink [pesticide] but the police stopped him."
She added: "Of course if you drink pesticide on the first day of Chinese New Year, the police are going to step in and stop you. After that, he was taken away in an ambulance."
The group were easily identified as petitioners—ordinary Chinese who may have lost land, homes, health or livelihoods at the hands of government official—because they wore printed T-shirts detailing their grievances, the eyewitness said.
"They had slogans written on their clothing, which showed they came from Shaoyang in Hunan," Huang said. "There was a kid there of about seven or eight, and there were six of them altogether."
Huang was later detained alongside other petitioners on the Square and taken to a nearby police station.
Protests near CCP headquarters
Meanwhile, a petitioner from the Mianyang in the southwestern province of Sichuan said many petitioners had converged on Lixue Alley, near the ruling Chinese Communist Party's headquarters in Zhongnanhai, in the hope of handing petition letters and New Year's greetings to the country's leaders.
"The first day of the new year is a day when you get rid of the old and welcome in the new," petitioner Yang Xiuqiong said. "We petitioners have no homes to go to, otherwise we wouldn't come here looking for our leaders."
Yang added: "We want them to take notice of us, so they will help us sort out our problems, but when we got to Lixue Alley, we were detained by police and taken to the Fuyoujie police station."
Several hundred people met the same fate, according to eyewitnesses and detainees inside the police station.
"Today is New Year's Day, and we are spending it in the Fuyoujie police station," Sichuan petitioner Yuan Ying told RFA. "There are more than 300 petitioners here with us, from all across China."
"All of us wanted to go and wish the president a happy new year," said Yuan, who was also detained at Majialou on Sunday.
Many of those detained were later held in the Majialou detention center on the outskirts of Beijing.
'Interceptors' make their move
Zhejiang petitioner and detainee Yu Guihua was released from Majialou but was immediately picked up by "interceptors"—officials sent from her hometown to stop people lodging complaints about the local government in Beijing, fellow petitioners said.
According to Sichuan petitioner Zhou Wenming, the interceptors beat Yu, knocking her to the ground and trying to drag her away with them.
"There were interceptors there from Zhejiang who were worried she would complain about their government, and they dragged her to the ground, where they manhandled her a bit, although she wasn't seriously injured," Zhou told RFA. "I stepped in to stop them and there were some scuffles, but the interceptors left after the Majialou police came over, and then we were able to get Yu to safety.”
A group of some 15 petitioners from Shanghai also unfurled a banner in the suburbs of Beijing which read: "Wishing President Xi Jinping a Happy New Year; you reap what you sow," petitioners said.
Elsewhere in the capital, petitioners from across China came together in a bid to welcome the Year of the Monkey, in spite of being homeless and penniless, according to photos of the scene seen by RFA.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.