Protesters drink pesticide in staged group suicide attempt in Beijing

Group from Heilongjiang province say promised jobs not provided for their children

 Labourers work at a construction site of the  Harbin-Dalian Railway  in Shenyang, Liaoning province of China. The protesters from  Heilongjiang province were promised jobs for their children on the railway, an “iron rice bowl” civil service job for life that meant security and prestige. Photograph: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Labourers work at a construction site of the Harbin-Dalian Railway in Shenyang, Liaoning province of China. The protesters from Heilongjiang province were promised jobs for their children on the railway, an “iron rice bowl” civil service job for life that meant security and prestige. Photograph: ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

Fri, Aug 16, 2013, 01:00


Twenty-one petitioners from northeast China tried to stage a high-profile group suicide in Beijing after their petition for Harbin Railway Bureau to provide the highly valued public service jobs it had promised their children came to nothing.

All wearing the same white T-shirts with the words “Harbin Railway Bureau” printed on their chests, the petitioners attempted suicide by drinking pesticide near the Beijing West Railway Station on Tuesday morning.

“They lay on the ground after taking the pesticide. They looked in pain. Their vomit was scattered around,” an eyewitness told the state-run Global Times newspaper.

The people from Heilongjiang province were promised jobs for their children on the railway, an “iron rice bowl” civil service job for life that meant security and prestige.

All that their sons had to do was join the People’s Liberation Army, Harbin Railway Bureau told them. None of the employees’ offspring were university graduates so they had to earn status in a different way. One of these routes is by serving in the army, the world’s largest military force with two million soldiers, a seriously prestigious choice and an excellent way of proving one’s loyalty to China.

The Global Times quoted petitioners saying there were more than 200 families of returning veterans from the bureau, many of whom have served two years in the army.

The promised jobs did not materialise, and the families complained. Their petitions were not heard at a local level, so they went nationwide.

Petitioning is an ancient system dating from the imperial age in China, where people who felt they were being abused by the system turned to the emperor for help, travelling to Beijing to petition for the assistance of the supreme authority.

The tradition has continued in the Communist era, but in the last few years it has become a much more complicated practice. Any petitioners seen near Tiananmen Square are rounded up and often jailed in “petitioners’ hotels”, which are basically detention centres referred to as “black jails”.

After their suicide attempt, the petitioners were escorted by police to the Fuxing Hospital of Capital Medical University and the General Hospital of the Ministry of Water Resources.

Nine petitioners were released after treatment, a press officer from the hospital told the Global Times.