BEIJING -- A disabled man who was reportedly protesting past mistreatment by security officials set off a homemade bomb inside Beijing Capital International Airport on Saturday evening, injuring only himself but causing a brief panic, according to witnesses.
The man, Ji Zhongxing, who was in a wheelchair, detonated a small bomb at 6:24 p.m. just outside the international arrivals area of Terminal 3, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Xinhua said Mr. Ji, 34, from China's eastern Shandong Province, had been handing out leaflets shortly before the explosion, which was reportedly ignited by gunpowder he had collected from fireworks. The news agency's brief dispatch ended by saying that Mr. Ji's injuries were not life threatening and that the terminal had quickly resumed normal operations.
It did not take long for Chinese Internet users to uncover the reason that Mr. Ji had chosen to stage a very public act of desperation at China's busiest airport, one of the country's architectural landmarks.
According to documents posted on the Internet, Mr. Ji, who had earned his living transporting people on a motorcycle, was paralyzed from the waist down in 2005 after security officers in the southern city of Dongguan beat him for operating an unlicensed transport service. In a petition letter detailing his plight, Mr. Ji said he had been left with $16,000 in medical bills. "Almost without hope, petition road endless," he wrote at one point.
It was not possible to immediately confirm the details of his story, but police brutality and justice denied are familiar themes in China. With a court system often weighted in the state's favor, many Chinese turn to petitioning to appeal to higher authorities. Their hope, rooted in a tradition that dates back centuries, is that enlightened officials might resolve their complaint if only they knew the injustice that the petitioners had endured.
That hope often proves illusory.
In recent years, scores of petitioners have turned to violence after they found themselves stymied by a system that sometimes seeks to silence them through stints in illegal "black" jails or labor camps.
Last month, a 59-year-old man, despondent over the denial of social security benefits, set fire to a bus in the coastal city of Xiamen, killing 47 people and himself. In 2011, a farmer reportedly seeking revenge for the demolition of his home to make way for a highway bombed government buildings in eastern Jiangxi Province, killing himself and two others.
Still, when pushed to the brink, most petitioners will choose to harm just themselves, sometimes by drinking pesticide, attempting self-immolation or jumping to their death.
According to an interview that Mr. Ji gave to Philanthropy Times in 2005, he had found two lawyers to take his case, but it went nowhere. Because he was unable to work, he said, his entire family fell into debt, and he became increasingly disillusioned.
"We beseech the heavens, and the heavens do not answer," Mr. Ji wrote on his blog. "We beseech the earth, and the earth is silent. So much injustice, and we have nowhere to be heard."
On Saturday, witnesses said that Mr. Ji had been trying to hand out leaflets at the airport but that there had been little interest from passers-by. At one point he waved his hands in the air; at least one person said Mr. Ji had told people to move away from him. Then he detonated the package he was holding in his left hand.
Smoke filled the area, and photographs taken by those at the scene and posted online showed his wheelchair flung on its side and several police officers and medical workers around him.
In an interview outside the terminal, one witness said that there had been some blood on the ground but that airport employees had quickly cleaned the area after Mr. Ji was taken away. "The place is spotless clean," the witness said.
According to several news media reports, doctors treating Mr. Ji had to amputate one of his arms.
Chen Jiehao contributed research.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.