China's authoritarian leaders are scrambling to contain anti-Japan protests that flared in at least a half-dozen cities over the weekend, with more planned for Tuesday despite attempts to kill discussion of the rallies online.
The protests were sparked by a collision last month between a Chinese fishing boat and Japanese government patrol vessels near a chain of disputed islands — which set off a diplomatic tussle between the two Asian powers that has now subsided.
But street demonstrations have continued, and have begun to attract domestic causes as well, ranging from freedom of speech to high housing prices, and even in one case, a call for multiparty democracy — a direct challenge to Communist Party rule.
"They seem to be organized by ordinary people," well-known activist Liu Feng told The Associated Press on Monday. "They're being held in smaller, more remote cities to avoid too much attention and pressure from the central government."
Chinese protesters gathered at cities including Changsha in the south and Lanzhou to the west. On Saturday, hundreds of protesters had rallied in the southwestern city of Deyang.
Japanese television footage showed uniformed and plainclothes police watching closely and in some cases ripping down banners and escorting people away from the demonstrations which attracted several hundred participants, carrying Chinese flags and chanting, "love China" and "boycott Japanese goods." There were no immediate reports of arrests or property damage.
Calls for more rallies Tuesday have circulated on the Internet, including a planned march to the Japanese consulate in the western city of Chongqing.
The government has encouraged nationalist outrage over Japan's seizing of a Chinese fishing boat captain — who was subsequently released — near the disputed islands in the East China Sea. The unoccupied islands are controlled by Japan, which calls them Senkaku, but also claimed by China, which calls them called Diaoyutai. But China's government is also wary of public protests that could spin out of control and evolve into open confrontation between the people and the Communist Party.
Yang Fengchun, a professor with the School of Government at Peking University, said officials would quickly step in if that started to happen.
"I haven't seen any direct instructions from the government about the protests, but like always these protests take place with acquiescence from the government who will make sure the protests do not to spin out of control," Yang said.
The People's Daily, whose commentaries are vetted at the highest levels of the state propaganda machine, said in an editorial posted Monday on popular websites that expressing "patriotic passions is understandable." But it warned against actions that violate laws and regulations. It urged demonstrators to plunge into their work and studies rather than take to the streets.
Anti-Japanese sentiment bubbles just under the surface in China, fed by resentment over what is perceived to be insufficient Japanese contrition for the country's brutal World War II occupation of much of China.
Yet the apparently leaderless protests have begun to attract other causes. One particularly bold sign displayed Sunday in the western city of Baoji called for multiparty democracy.
A man reached by phone at the Xinhua bookstore in Baoji said the afternoon protest lasted about an hour and broke up peacefully.
"There weren't that many of them, shouting about loving China and not buying Japanese goods. There were also lots of police," said the man, who declined to give his name because he wasn't authorized to speak with reporters.
Hoping to prevent larger protests, authorities in Baoji and other cities extended classes at schools through the weekend and guarded campus gates to prevent large numbers of students from leaving.
It wasn't clear who was organizing the protests. Word of them appeared to have spread online, despite attempts by China's web police to block postings about them.
The notice calling for the protest planned for Tuesday in Chongqing was blocked by censors, although it could be found in search engine caches. It appeared almost identical to online notices posted last weekend, listing a meeting point, march route and slogans to be chanted, including "boycott Japanese goods" and "protect Diaoyutai."
Also Monday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said Japan lodged a diplomatic protest against China after the coast guard said two Chinese fisheries patrol boats were spotted near disputed islets late Sunday. The ships remained for more than one hour but did not enter Japanese waters, he said.
"We will continue to monitor" the ships, Sengoku said.
Associated Press Writer Shino Yuasa contributed to this report from Tokyo.