Police were grabbing people by their collars and pulling them away from a designated mourning area if they tried to enter without carrying flowers. People at the scene said there appeared to be no sign of protest, though some groups of agitated locals were discussing the fire and its causes.
“Shame on them! How dare they say the rescue was successful? We here feel so sorry for those miserable families, but not for the government,” said one witness to the fire, a man surnamed Yin.
China’s officials are highly sensitive to any mass, emotional gathering that could swing into anger and social unrest. Neither China Central Television’s nightly newscast nor the front page of the state-run Xinhua News Agency website mentioned the extraordinary gathering.
The fire swept through the 28-story building Monday after sparks from welding equipment set alight nylon construction netting and bamboo scaffolding. Some people scrambled down the scaffolding to escape.
Update: Adam Minter of Shanghai Scrap writes movingly about what he witnessed during the mass gathering at the scene of the fire:
What I did sense, what I will not forget, was the rhythm to this procession. For the last long block, as the procession slowed, we began this odd stutter-step: we would walk five or six steps, and then we’d come to a dead stop, pause for ten seconds or so, and then start the cycle against, five, six steps. Nobody said anything, nobody was pushing ahead – rather, the crowd seemed to accept this odd, almost reverential step. As we moved slowly along, it took on a life of its own, almost like a mourning dance. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. I wish i could explain it. But, when we reached the intersection beneath the burnt-out building, there was nothing and nobody directing this movement – we just flowed into what felt like a sacred space, with a brief admonition – quite right – that I should remove my hat before proceeding further. I laid my flowers atop a pile of thousands of bouquets, extending in two directions, for two blocks.
Chinese Twiterers also reported this event. Images and comments from Twitter are here.