A Chinese man set himself alight in Tiananmen Square last month, authorities said Thursday, the first such protest reported in the politically sensitive heart of the capital in more than a decade.

Police moved quickly to put out the fire and the 42-year-old man survived, the Beijing Public Security Bureau said in a statement, adding that he was protesting against the outcome of a civil lawsuit

A photograph on the website of Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper showed a man lying on the ground in the square surrounded by police officers under the iconic portrait of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong.

"At about 11 am on October 21 2011 a man surnamed Wang approached the Jinshuiqiao and suddenly ignited the clothes he was wearing," the statement said, referring to the section of the square where Mao's portrait is hung.

"Police officers on the scene extinguished the fire in dozens of seconds and sent him to hospital."

There has been an escalation in self-immolations in China this year.

Nine Buddhist monks and two nuns have set themselves alight in ethnically Tibetan parts of Sichuan province since the start of 2011 -- a development rights groups say shows a growing desperation over what they call religious repression in the area.

Earlier this month an 81-year-old woman died after setting herself on fire as local officials tried to demolish her home in China.

But there have been no confirmed reports of such protests in Tiananmen Square -- the heart of China's capital and scene of a deadly 1989 crackdown on mass pro-democracy protests -- since 2001.

Seven members of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong tried to set themselves alight on the square on January 23, 2001. Two were prevented from doing so by police and one woman died at the scene, previous reports have said.

At the time, Falun Gong denied the people were members of the group and accused the government of fabricating the story to discredit the movement.

China's state-run media is heavily censored and did not cover the latest protest until Thursday, when the Chinese English-language Global Times newspaper published a brief report.