Tiananmen Square is a place that’s huge (It’s one of the world’s largest city squares) and teeming with people. To get on the square you need to pass through an airport style screening of bags and such. Once on the square, there’s actually not much.
Two VERY large digital video screens streaming promotions for various regions of China.
An occasional guard standing at attention (that has to be the most boring job in China).
A flag pole that is the focus of attention at dawn and dusk when the Chinese flag is raised and lowered with military pomp. Mao’s mausoleum at one end and the classic view of Mao’s portrait on a building across the street from the square at the other end.
And… several fire extinguishers.
Yes, standard issue hand held fire extinguishers just like you’d see in the hallway of any public building anywhere in the world. Except, these are placed at several positions around the square but not in close proximity to anything I’ve noted. See above.
They’re just sitting on the square, naked – no enclosure, no stand, no one nearby to deploy them. Just inscrutably on duty, ready to extinguish a fire. Except there’s virtually nothing on the square that could burn. No trees, no benches, no wooden structures. Ever ready and ever inscrutable.
Except, when I got home, I found out that the extinguishers are there to guard against self-immolation demonstrations – people setting themselves on fire to protest some Communist policy or action. Since the mass protests in 1989 that led to the deaths of hundreds of protesters and the institution of martial law, the Chinese government has been sensitive to protest of any kind and, in particular, any that take a public and dramatic form. A number of self-immolations in Tibet in protest over Chinese occupation of Tibet and three incidents of self-immolation protests in Beijing in 2001, 2003 and 2011 have led the Beijing authorities to post anti-immolation firefighters in the square, seen in this photo by Tom Lasseter, to deter protests or at least put out any incendiary-minded protesters as quickly as possible. Their vigilance seems to have waned however, because on the day I visited, the lonely fire extinguishers were all that stood against potential dissent.