Some people in the Chinese capital had thought that they had seen it all. That is, until they saw a stark naked man dashing through the street at midnight, carrying a giant cross over his shoulder.
They were left shocked, perplexed and some inspired.
The man behind the scene was Li Binyuan, a 28-year-old from Hunan Province who regards himself as a self-employed artist. A 2011 graduate of China Central Academy of Fine Arts, the sensitive and emotional sculpture major first ran through town in his birthday suit, during the wee hours before dawn, a few months ago, in March.
But it wasn't until naked photos of him carrying a giant cross on a moped or running with an inflatable sex doll - that went viral from May 11, sparking controversy over the motivation behind his actions on Weibo, China's response to Twitter - did Li feel the need to explain his peculiar behavior.
Li revealed his identity to the public online on May 17, and has since promised to stop, responding to outcries over his "indecent exposure."
Li said that it was never his intention to stir trouble or offend anyone.
"I was only trying to let off steam," he told the Global Times.
Politics not at play
He never imagined it would all turn into such a show. But after a few sporadic runs in his birthday suit, he grew somewhat bored of the same routine and wanted to get more creative with it. That's when the handmade cross and inflatable sex doll that he borrowed from a friend came in.
"I just thought that society seemed so empty lately," he said. "Everyone always seems to be worrying. We all need an outlet where we can vent and let things out."
Li dismisses claims that his actions were political in nature, as suggested by The Huffington Post, which reported that "the real reason could be more serious, with some reports of Christians being persecuted in China."
Instead, Li said that his routine naturally evolved into a type of performance art.
"It became a way for me to sort of communicate with netizens," he said. "The combination of my bare skin and a cross might look ridiculous and ironic, and while I may have started a topic for conversation, I certainly wasn't guiding the discussion."
On the cold, early morning of March 20, around 2 am, Li made his debut with a 20-minute run through Beijing's Wangjing neighborhood. He said that work pressures and relationship woes were on his mind that night.
Curious onlookers snapped pictures of him, but no one stopped him.
Not at all embarrassed by the photos circulating online, Li said that he's enjoyed reading about people's reactions to his actions. In fact, he even developed a pattern, searching for himself on the Internet after every run.
"It might seem strange, but I felt connected with society and encouraged to do more," he said.
And while people in Beijing are no strangers to odd nudity - after some 300 runners participated in the Naked Running competition at Olympic Forest Park in February to promote environmentally friendly lifestyles - they haven't appreciated Li's stunt.
Unlike Li, however, the runners kept their underwear on.
Luckily for Li, he never ran into trouble with police. Lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan from law firm Beijing Fengrui said that if he had chosen to run during busy times of the day, he could have faced serious consequences.
"Since Li ran late at night, his behavior didn't cause much harm to society," he said. "If he did this in the daytime at a crowded public area, it could have been a very different situation."
While others say Li did it for fame, not all the publicity has been bad. Members of the gay community have offered support, suspecting that Li had been trying to come out of the closet, claims that Li says are untrue.
He admits that some of his naked running pictures were taken by his friends and posted online by himself.
Still, others have reached out in support, with one Weibo user saying that he should "let be, so long as he isn't hurting anyone." Some said they want to run with him. Corporations have even offered to pay Li to run with their company logo.
For now, Li said that he is working on brainstorming up new artistic forms that can help him release stress in less controversial ways. He's not yet sure what that will involve, but is keeping an open mind, drawing inspiration from German performance artist Joseph Beuys.
"His fundamental message is that 'everyone is an artist,'" said Li. "I know that I can seize fresh, new opportunities to live in the moment without having to run through the city naked. That's what I plan to do."