A group of around 30 taxi drivers from northern China traveled to Beijing and drank pesticide in the middle of a mall, collapsing and frothing at the mouth during peak shopping hours on Saturday.
According to government officials, the group had come to Beijing protesting licensing laws that made it illegal for them to work as taxi drivers without being members of a larger government-sponsored taxi union.
The New York Times reports the number of drivers at “at least ten” and identifies them as being from Suifenhe, Heilongjiang, a city bordering Russia. The Times notes that “drinking pesticide is a common way to commit suicide in China, particularly in rural areas.”
The South China Morning Post added more details: the drivers were barred by a 2011 law from being self-employed taxi drivers and did not wish to incur the hardships of becoming affiliated with a government taxi service. The newspaper placed the number of protesters at “more than 30” and noted that at least one of them spoke to the outlet Caixin, stating, “We arrived by train on Monday but got no response after taking our complaint to both the State Bureau for Letters and Calls and the Ministry of Transport.” He was not allowed to continue his response, as police led him away.
The discrepancy in numbers may be due to the difference in the number of protesters versus those the government claimed had severely hurt themselves. The Telegraph reports that, while “more than 30” drivers were indeed involved in the protest, “ten were seriously affected and could be seen frothing from the mouth in the pedestrian mall at the busy Wangfujing shopping centre.”
Despite its nature as an anti-government, pro-capitalist protest, the People’s Daily state newspaper reported on the incident, tweeting out a photo in which at least 18 people can be seen on the floor:
30 taxi drivers from Suifenhe, Heilongjiang staged protest in Beijing Sat, appealing for right to renew taxi licenses pic.twitter.com/yaE81yCNFn
— People’s Daily,China (@PDChina) April 4, 2015
Frustrations with the Chinese government’s stronghold on the taxi industry have risen in recent months, in part spurred by attempts on the part of ride-sharing telephone applications like Uber to break through in the communist nation.
In January, CNN reported an increase in the number of protests on the part of individual cab drivers—most in the form of strikes—protesting both the increasing difficulty in acquiring licenses to work in the industry and the presence of ride-sharing apps. CNN notes that the government has since banned “private cars from providing rides through taxi apps,” though the fees for becoming a licensed driver remain astronomical: as much as 500,000 yuan ($80,745) for a new license.