Beijing (CNN) -- The photograph was unmistakably graphic: a lifeless man under the large tire of a truck -- his eyes shut, mouth half-open with blood streaming out and his head detached from his crushed body.
The circumstances surrounding the death of 53-year-old Qian Yunhui last Saturday in a small town in eastern China, however, almost resemble the plot of filmmaker Akira Kurosawa's classic "Rashomon" -- with differing versions of the event and flip-flopping witnesses.
The government initially said Qian died in an ordinary traffic accident and detained the truck driver.
But as shocking images from the scene in Yueqing city began to appear on a popular Chinese online forum Sunday, some posts suggested he was murdered by local officials for advocating villagers' rights in a land dispute. Word quickly spread online and mainstream Chinese news media picked up the story.