About 100 raggedly dressed Chinese including women and children sat down yesterday in front of the entrance to the compound containing the residences and officers of China's top leaders, apparently to seek help for a number of personal grievances.
The demonstrators, most of them apparently from the central province of Hunan, talked and sometimes argued with soldiers guarding the gate to the Zhongnanhai compound, but were allowed to remain there overnight.
When I tried to interview some of them, police and soldiers who had formed a loose ring around them pulled me back.
"This is a restricted area," the soldiers said several times. When I asked why the people were demonstrating, they said "It is an internal matter."
The gate is on Peking's main avenue, Long Peach Street. Visiting Vice President Mondale's car passed by the scene while going to meetings at the Great Hall of the People, but he did not mention it during a press conference today.
Since January, other groups from outside Peking have sat down in front of Zhongnanhai for periods varying from a few hours to three days. Thousands of Chinese regularly come to the capital seeking aid and complaining of poor economic conditions or political discrimination.