But a few miles before reaching the square, he began his deadly attack on a busy street next to a compound where many foreign diplomats and journalists live. He was eventually killed by army officers.
Police confirmed reports that the gunman was a former paramilitary officer who was unhappy with his superior, but they would give no other details.
Yesterday's street violence, which is rare in China, shocked Beijing residents. Crowds of hundreds of people gaped for hours afterward at the blood on the streets and at the shattered windshield of a taxi.
China has a strict ban on civilian ownership of guns and ammunition and harsh penalties, including wide use of the death penalty, to deter crime.
Indeed, so unusual is street violence that China's leaders have taken to pointing out America's constant shootings as evidence that the United States has a worse human rights record than China.
One former army officer said yesterday's shootings are a manifestation of the intense frustrations felt by certain segments of Chinese society, including peasants, army and paramilitary officers and those working in failing state enterprises. "There is a lot of tension and very few outlets for it," said the former officer.
"I have seen these things happen in the countryside," said the former army officer, who did not want to be identified. "Army officers, especially
from the countryside, have no education. When they feel frustrated, the gun becomes a means of expressing themselves."
To Beijing residents, the shootings were part of a trend of crime in a society with increasingly large gaps between rich and poor. Until 1979, virtually everyone in China had a similar standard of living: poor. But now, ''success" and becoming rich are primary goals, causing breakdowns of the old bonds among people.
The shootings occurred at 7:20 a.m. on Second Ring Road, a major thoroughfare.
One witness, a photographer who looked outside her high-rise window in the foreigners' compound when she heard shots, said she saw a man running with a gun. Next she saw a "man shot right in the face."
The gunman had exited the jeep and fired shots, other witnesses said. The shots hit a bus driver and at least three of the bus' passengers. People in the street also were shot and bleeding.
Police and army officers rushed to the scene. During an exchange of gunfire, the gunman was killed. So was the Iranian diplomat, Yousef Mohammadi Pishknari, an attache. He had just left the foreigners' compound to drive his two sons to their school at the Iranian Embassy, an embassy spokesman said. The diplomat's 10-year-old son was killed, and his 12-year-old-son, who was sitting in the back seat, was shot and wounded.
At the nearest hospital, Children's Hospital, nurses piled three body bags into a van at 11 a.m. One of the bodies, a nurse said, belonged to a boy who arrived at the hospital, decapitated. Other adults and children were in the emergency room, where doctors were trying to save them, the nurse said.