Firefighters in Tiananmen Square at the ready to douse self-immolators

Writing at the Washington Post, Max Fisher explains a creepy photo making the foreign correspondent rounds: "This week’s very public display of firefighters in Tiananmen – noticed by McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter, who posted the photo to his McClatchy China blog and kindly granted permission for me to reproduce it – is meant to deter potential self-immolators, or at least to put them out as quickly as possible."


  1. I don’t know whether Fisher is right (he uses likely, may, and presumably in his explanation, so it’s only guesswork on his side), and Tom Lasseter (who took the photo) posted it without any explanation at all. Fisher may be onto something, but the way you’ve worded it makes it sound as though he (and Lasseter) know for certain. They don’t. This sort of guesswork posing as factual reporting about China really annoys me. There are plenty of real things to report about without presuming two guys with fire extinguishers are at-the-ready to douse people setting themselves on fire.

    As far as fires and Tiananmen go, all I know is that last time I was in Beijing (October) I saw an F650 fire truck slowly making its way along one side of Tiananmen Square through large crowds. I doubt it was there to douse self-immolators. But who knows, maybe it was. I could have had a nice exclusive if I’d posted it on Reddit..

    1. “They don’t.”

      You made a great case until that sentence. 

      Do YOU know for certain that they don’t know? Seems like you’re willing to be certain on fairly limited second hand evidence. Sure you should call someone out for what you’re also doing?

      1. If you read Fisher’s article you’ll see sentences like this: 

        “Firefighter teams are posted to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, likely to put out any protesters who attempt to set themselves on fire.” Note use of “likely”. 

        And this: 

        “Presumably, this week’s very public display of firefighters in Tiananmen … is meant to deter potential self-immolators” Note the use of “presumably”. 

        These words are used by writers when they don’t know things for certain. I.e., they don’t know why the firefighters are there. If Fisher knew, he (and his editor) would not use these words. 

        So, yes, I know for certain Fisher and Lasseter (the photographer) don’t know. As I said, there’s plenty of stories worth telling about China where the facts are not doubt. This one is just guesswork and should be indicated as such. 

        Of course, it may well be true the firefighters are there to put out people setting themselves on fire. I don’t know. But at least I say I don’t…

        1. “So, yes, I know for certain Fisher and Lasseter (the photographer) don’t know.”

          no. You know only they used those words. The rest is presumption, which is what your issue is with -their- conclusions, no? Unless you have first hand knowledge of their intent, you are no more capable of assessing it then they are of assessing the intent of the men with the extinquishers.

          raise the bar, don’t make the same mistake you’re pointing out. 

          1. Yes, Tiananmen Square itself is vast and non-flammable. But it’s often filled with people, some of whom do weird things. Like put their cigarette buts in rubbish bins full of plastic wrappers and paper. 

  2. In Communist China, fire sets you on disco. 

    I’m ambivalent about the whole Harakiri ‘genre’ of suicide. I know and love people who have died or tried. But I never once thought it somehow vindicated their politics. 

    Consider 2006’s “the Bridge.” (Arguendo. DON’T actually watch it). Every ‘crime’ has its Anarchist Cookbook. As far as most Americans are aware, the last person to self-immolate made the cover of a Rage Against the Machine Album. Suicide is contagious. If you’re going to arduino-ify your TV’s CC to mute any mention of Lindsay Lohan, then you already know: media are just as much about abstention as consumption. 

    Suicide is wrong as a rule, the way that art is right. And not in the abstract. Suicide = less art. 

    I won’t disagree with the idea that suicide is the most powerful way a person could ever possibly dissent. But what a fucking waste of enthusiasm. I cannot speak to the politics involved here, but that’s exactly the point. Kudos on not glorifying the act.

    1. Yeah, suicide is a downer, but you have to admit, the Tibetan people aren’t exactly drowning in options. 

      That and the “free world” isn’t exactly going out of our way to help. Hell, we won’t even give Taiwan the dignity of calling their country “Taiwan” in the Olympics… let alone pressure China for social justice (remember when we, the US anyway, tried that and they gave us the whole pot-kettle-black rebuttle?)

      1. Survivalism means a sustainable, tenable, global impact on art and culture . By contrast, without Xeni’s help, I wouldn’t have even known that these people were even ‘art-ing’. Suicide is, by definition, a one night stand.

        I understand that Taiwan could benefit from global aid. That’s exactly why the Internet is so important. But that’s also why an E-ethos when it comes to suicide is so important.

        (Edited for acerplatanoides, who was correct – I was being a little dramatic)

          1. I brought a fine appreciation for the art on display here. Isn’t that why you’re here not talking about hitler? for art?

            {edited to reflect that the comment being replied to spoke of jews in attics, creating art]

        1. So now it’s about survivalism,and Me? I preferred it being about men with fire extinguishers stifling open expression.

          I remain unconvinced you’re here in good faith. I believe you’re quite passionate. This combination is not uncommon in communist china related threads at BB.

          1. Did you read my original post? I disapprove of suicide. I disapprove of ritual political suicide (like immolation) in particular. Not because I disapprove of people expressing themselves, or because I disagree with what these people have to say. I disapprove ESPECIALLY because people who are THAT passionate could probably change the world more by living and continuing to change it. I’m really sorry if I was too bombastic or ambiguous – I do think/hope we’re actually on the same page.  

  3. Dude, I already apologized for being too ‘dramatic’ and edited to that effect. If you don’t know the difference between the two words, that’s not my problem.  I’m not taking that ‘vindicated’ part back: neither of us can win this argument by killing ourselves.

  4. As a firefighter of the American variety, the thing I find most offensive about this photo is the fact these poor guys have to stand at attention while waiting for an actual emergency: surely they have the technology to reverse engineer a La-z-boy for the comfort of these First Responders?

    All kidding aside, what knowledge I have about fire extinguishers gives me some clues about their equipment, if not their intended usage.

    The big one I’m pretty sure is dry chemical.  The yellow cylinder holds the pressurized gas that (when activated) charges the main unit.  Similar to the ones we have in my department, however ours are so old, we were told during tower training when manually charging said extinguishers to make sure to stay to the side while hitting the button as rusted bottoms could cause catastrophic failure and take your head off.  That was 12 years ago, and we still carry the same ones…

    Anyway: to my eyes the small ones in the photo also look to be of the same type: plain water extinguishers would be larger, CO2 would have a much larger nozzle diameter…but fire fighting tech is different worldwide, I’m really only familiar with the stuff I work with.

    So: just to put out self-immolaters?  Could be.  I find it interesting that there is no medical equipment in view: show me a firefighter in the US that is not at least an EMT and I’ll show you a guy who is about to retire (not 100% of course…but it is the way of the future)  Still, there are many lands and local municipalities where just being a Fire Man is enough…and you’ll hear no complaint from me.  However, this picture would please me more with a medical bag in view…

    And as much as I’d like to add my two cents about the Chinese government and its despotic, arrogant Tibetan policy…

    I guess I’ll just stick to what I know.

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