Blind and deaf mainland activist Li Wangyang was barely known here a week ago, when up to 180,000 people gathered in Victoria Park for a rally marking the 23rd anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
Yesterday, as many as 25,000 people joined a protest march mourning Li's death last week, and demanding answers. There are suspicious circumstances surrounding the 62-year-old's death - despite local authorities in Shaoyang, Hunan, insisting that he hanged himself.
Li had advocated for independent labor unions in his Hunan hometown in 1989 when he was caught in a nationwide crackdown, spending 21 years in jail.
He was found hanged by the window in the hospital where he had been confined since his release. But his family insisted he did not commit suicide.
Li's body was cremated on Saturday - three days after the suspicious death, and one day after an autopsy was performed - from which family members were barred.
It is regrettable that the Shaoyang government did not take the first opportunity to provide information about the incident. Silence can only thicken a mystery.
The local authorities have since broken their silence, with a spokesman saying the cremation was done at the request of Li's family. The autopsy was performed by four pathologists - including three from the renowned Sun Yat- sen University in Guangzhou. A local member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference was present and the process video-taped.
For the first time, the spokesman said other patients in Li's ward saw him behaving suspiciously near the window about 3.30am last Wednesday. Closed- circuit television showed no strangers going in or coming out of the ward.
All this is the most detailed account given by officials so far. The bright side is that the local government eventually broke its silence, as greater transparency would only bode well for the situation.
But it's most disappointing that Li's family disappeared suddenly, after having been able to speak to the media for several consecutive days.
Why were they disconnected from the media? Were they coerced into agreeing to the cremation? These are among questions still unanswered. Understandably, it remains difficult for many people to simply believe the Shaoyang officials' version of events.
It is essential for the case to be resolved in the interest of transparency. China is vast and has numerous local authorities. Even diehard democrat lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan has observed that incidents at the local level are often too remote for the central government to control.
Li's plight was similar to that of blind rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who was placed under indefinite house arrest after being released from prison.
Perhaps lawmaker and National People's Congress deputy Ip Kwok- him has also noticed the gap. Otherwise, he wouldn't have offered to write to Beijing to draw its attention to the Li case. The incident must be handled properly - otherwise the flames of distrust will continue spreading.