Authorities in the Chinese capital detained the mother of a child left with severe health problems following a faulty vaccine after she ran towards the national flagpole in Tiananmen Square in a bid to self-harm in protest at the lack of redress.
Wang Jinfeng became a long-time petitioner for compensation and assistance from the government after her son developed the problems following vaccinations to prevent tuberculosis and hepatitis B in their home city of Yinchuan in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.
Driven to despair at the sight of healthy, happy children playing on the square on Oct. 1, which marked the 69th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Wang rushed towards the heavily guarded flagpole in the hope that the police would beat her up, she told RFA.
"I saw all those people looking so happy, and so many children looking very lively and healthy," Wang told RFA on Tuesday. "Then I looked at my own child who was next to me, who can't walk and can't even talk, and my mental state just collapsed."
"I felt that it would be better to smash my head against that flagpole and kill myself than to be beaten and humiliated to death by them," she said.
The mother of another vaccine campaigner, Yan Xinhui from Luoyang in central China’s Henan province, witnessed Wang's protest.
All the other people's kids were running and jumping around, but her kid could only sit in a wheelchair," Yan told RFA. "I was pushing his wheelchair at the time, and we were still talking when she dashed off yelling that she didn't want to live any more ... and that if she didn't die under the flagpole she would be killed by the local police."
Wang was stopped by police in front of the flagpole and taken to the nearest police station, however.
"They talked to me a lot," she said. "The police on the Beijing side are quite sympathetic to us, and then they said they can report [our complaint] to the relevant departments."
"They also bought some food for my kid, and then let me go," she said.
Wang's eight-year-old has been left with severe disabilities after being vaccinated at the Xixia District People's Hospital in Yinchuan.
Staff at the hospital initially told her that her son's reaction "wasn't serious," so she took him Beijing for treatment.
He was diagnosed with cognitive impairment and convulsions by the Beijing Children's Hospital, with a possible link to the vaccine. He has also contracted tuberculosis, she said.
Wang returned to Yinchuan to lodge complaints and petitions over her son's case, as well as petition health authorities in Beijing.
However, the local government repeatedly sent "interceptors" to find her in Beijing and force her to return to Yinchuan.
The local health bureau wrote to Wang at the beginning of this year claiming that her son's illness had nothing to do with the vaccine he had been given and denying any responsibility.
"They had never said anything about this before; they just told me to send his clinical notes and an application to the relevant departments," she said. "How can I accept this outcome?"
Since then, Wang has been detained and beaten by "interceptors," hired security guards security guards from Yinchuan who beat her up in her rented accommodations in Beijing and forced her to move.
Yan said her experience was similar to Wang's and to that of several other parents in a group of campaigners from out of town who are trying to win redress by petitioning in Beijing.
Her four-year-old daughter developed symptoms of learning disability only after being vaccinated, and was issued with a diagnosis absolving local health authorities of any blame.
Yan said two of the children in the group had recently died of complications linked to faulty vaccines.
"We all feel awful about this, everyone in our group," she said.
'Substandard vaccines' in Shandong
Last month, the ruling Chinese Communist Party fired the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the eastern province of Shandong "because of a case of substandard vaccines," the party's disciplinary arm announced.
Bi Zhenqiang is also under investigation for other "disciplinary violations," official media reported.
Seven other Shandong officials have also been held accountable in the case, with five of them dismissed, including the deputy head of the Shandong Health and Family Planning Commission and the deputy head of the Food and Drug Administration, the China Daily newspaper reported.
The faulty vaccines were produced by Changchun Changsheng Biotech, where an unfolding scandal has seen the sacking of dozens of top officials and company executives.
President Xi Jinping demanded a thorough investigation into vaccine scandal and promised severe punishment for those responsible, the paper said.
But the authorities repeatedly detain, beat and even "disappear" parent campaigners, who want the government to face up to its responsibilities and give the families hit by faulty vaccines compensation to help with mounting medical bills.
Parents are also calling for a vaccine law, and more timely public information about vaccine safety, as well as help with mounting medical bills for their children, some of whom are severely disabled after receiving substandard vaccines.
Reported by Wang Yun for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.