Around 1 p.m. Monday, Xinhua sent the following tweet under its handle XHNews:
“A motor vehicle went into the crowd in front of the Tian’anmen Rostrum Monday noon.”
Anything happening out of the ordinary at Tiananmen Square gets attention, but the fact that the information was released so quickly was notable. Was this a new transparency, or a practical strategy to control the narrative in an incident that would surelydraw great interest from the public?
Around 2 p.m. came another tweet, the first to offer details on the victims:
“A driver, 2 passengers confirmed dead after a jeep went into crowd and caught fire in front of Tian’anmen Rostrum Beijing Monday noon.”
By this point most newshounds had hopped into their vehicles and were speeding their way to the square.
When we arrived at around 2:40 p.m., there was traffic and an increased police presence, but neither was unusual. Approaching the square less than three hours after the vehicle slammed into the crowd, we saw an ambulance, a few tow trucks with lights still blinking and tourists being turned away. Vehicles were allowed in, and craning our necks, we saw approximately10 medium-size screens erected in a semi-circle in front of the massive portrait of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. It was possible to see workers sweeping, but what they were sweeping we could not see. And that was the point.
Police said an SUV swerved off the same road we were on and into the guardrail in front of Jinshui Bridge, which stretches over the moat in front of the Forbidden City. There didn’t appear to be any damage to the guardrail, but several hours had passed. We saw no victims or bystanders observing the scene, and no debris. By the time we circled once to re-enter the square and drive by a second time, even the screens had been removed. Aside from plainclothes police officers (easy to spot because even though they don’t wear a uniform they typically wear dark clothing and stand alone) in the area, no one would know that anything out of the ordinary had happened.
Later in the afternoon, there was another tweet from Xinhua with information on the injured:
“3 were killed, 11 others were injured after a jeep crash in front of Tiananmen rostrum.”
This was the first news on the number of injured, although photos of bloodied victims had circulated on social media. Photos of the vehicle aflame under the portrait of Mao had also circulated on Weibo, but neither were published on state-run media.
Chinese officials said an investigation was underway.