One year after a scandal toppled former Chongqing ruling Chinese Communist Party chief Bo Xilai, the authorities are censoring searches for his name from social media sites and clamping down on public shows of support for the one-time rising political star.
According to a Canadian edition of the Ming Pao newspaper, farmers protesting the loss of their land in the island province of Hainan over the weekend carried banners in support of Bo.
Citing photos posted by netizens on popular Twitter-like services, the paper said several hundred people took part in the march in Hainan's provincial capital, Haikou, on Saturday.
"Banners called on the authorities to fight corruption and to espouse Bo's policy of mutual prosperity," an online report said, carrying a photo of a demonstration from high above street level.
"Netizens said that the authorities sent large numbers of police to the scene to clear the area of demonstrators, and detained at least 20 people," it said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Haikou municipal police department's operations center confirmed the demonstration had taken place.
"Of course we sent officers there," the employee said. "That gathering hadn't been approved as a demonstration by us, so it was illegal."
But the employee declined to comment on the reports of banners mentioning Bo.
"If there were any detentions then it will be on the Internet," the employee said. "This is being dealt with according to law."
Meanwhile, would-be participant Feng Xue'en said he had been unable to leave home on Saturday morning.
"They sent four policemen to stand guard and stop me from going out," said Feng, who had previously said "more than 100 people" would carry a portrait of late supreme leader Mao Zedong.
Mao is revered by the leftist faction in the Party, which also is a strong support base for Bo.
Searches on the popular microblogging service Sina Weibo for "Haikou demonstration" and "stand by Bo" were blocked on Wednesday.
"According to the relevant laws and policies, the search results for 'stand by Bo' cannot be shown," a Sina Weibo service message said.
Fall from power
The march comes one year after Bo's right-hand man, Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, made a dramatic flight by car to the U.S. Embassy in Chengdu on Feb. 6, emerging the following morning to give himself up to investigators from the central government in Beijing, reports at the time said.
Wang was hired by then Chongqing Party secretary Bo, the charismatic "princeling" son of Party elder Bo Yibo, to spearhead his campaign against organized crime, which lawyers have since said targeted innocent businessmen with torture and forced confessions.
Bo rose to prominence as mayor of the northeastern port city of Dalian, and later became associated with a campaign to bring back revolutionary songs and Mao-era socialist morality to Chongqing.
Chongqing has done its best to wipe Bo's traces from the city, overturning some labor camp convictions handed down under his rule.
Bo is now being held at a secret location awaiting trial for crimes including abuse of power and bribery, while his wife Gu Kailai received a suspended death sentence in August for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Wang was jailed for 15 years in September on similar charges.
But the authorities have yet to announce a trial date for Bo, who still commands considerable support within the Party and among ordinary Chinese.
The case threatens to overshadow the transition to a new Communist Party leadership headed by president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, who has launched a nationwide anti-corruption campaign in its wake.
But political analysts say that there is nothing to mark out Bo's behavior in power from that of many other high-ranking officials, and that factional strife within the Party is behind his ouster.
Canada-based political analyst and former Xinhua journalist Jiang Weiping served six years in prison on charges of revealing state secrets after he wrote articles exposing official corruption, including about Bo's tenure in Dalian.
He wrote in a recent commentary on RFA's Mandarin service that political reforms alone would solve the problem of high-level corruption throughout the Party.
"Since Bo was detained, we have seen the 'stand by Bo' phenomenon continue to emerge across the country," Jiang said. "A number of scholars have complained of injustice [on his behalf]."
"But Xi Jinping and Bo Xilai are of the same political stock," he added. "The slogans 'fight corruption' and 'mutual prosperity' were both there at the 18th Party Congress [in November]."
"Now they are implementing Bo Xilai's policies, just without Bo Xilai," he said, adding that recent revelations about a sex scandal linked to former Chongqing official Lei Zhengfu were really a distraction from the need for genuine political change.
"It would be better to grasp the nettle of political reforms and let countless other Lei Zhengfus and their families off the hook," Jiang said.
"Only then would you get a country which really succeeds in curbing its officials."
Bo's case was formally transferred to the judiciary earlier this month, marking the beginning of criminal proceedings.
The Party expelled Bo from its ranks in October, following accusations of corruption and sexual misconduct, later also removing his parliamentary privilege and paving the way for a criminal trial.
Bo was judged to bear "major responsibility" in Heywood's murder, state media reported at the time.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.