Thousands of veterans of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) were dispersed by police on Monday after they converged on the southwestern region of Guangxi to mark the 35th anniversary of a border war with Vietnam that killed tens of thousands on both sides, activists said.
More than 3,000 PLA veterans arrived in the border town of Pingxiang, Guangxi, on Monday, hoping to use the anniversary to protest the lack of government support they say had been promised when they joined up.
Veteran Cai Jian, who helped organize the event, said the group had only managed a very brief ceremony at the Youyiguan border crossing in Pingxiang early on Monday morning.
"Nearly 3,000 were at Youyiguan, but some of them didn't make it in time," Cai said. "[The authorities] gave us a time limit, so there was little we could do within that time."
He said others had gone to a memorial garden and cemetery for Chinese heroes of the war, which began with a Chinese invasion of Vietnam's northernmost provinces in February 1979, following Vietnam's ouster of the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia.
"We held a memorial event in the cemetery," Cai said. "Now that we are here, we might as well have a get-together, so we have booked a function room in the Xiangcheng Hotel for this evening."
A few weeks after the invasion, then supreme leader Deng Xiaoping ordered Chinese forces to withdraw, and both Hanoi and Beijing claimed victory.
Across the border in Hanoi, Vietnamese activists on Sunday chanted slogans, sang patriotic songs, and lay flowers at a temple in central Hanoi to mark the war in an anti-China protest that was also broken up by the authorities.
The anniversary comes amid rising regional tensions between Beijing and its Asian neighbors, in part due to a long-running territorial dispute over the Paracel and Spratly island chains in the South China Sea, which are claimed by Hanoi and Beijing.
In China, the memorial event focused on PLA veterans' anger with their own government, however.
"We held up banners for just a few minutes, but then they were snatched away from us by police, who told us to pack them away again, quickly," PLA veteran and activist Sun Enwei told RFA from Pingxiang. "But our activity met with definite obstruction."
He said the veterans were allowed to proceed in small groups only.
"[The police] wanted us to pay our respects in groups, and only stay a short while," Sun said. "There were only 70 or 80 people in our group."
Vietnamese protests obstructed
In Hanoi, the anti-China protest was obstructed by people dancing around a monument to Vietnamese nationalist figurehead Ly Thai To on Sunday, participants said.
"It was deliberate ... they hired many people," economist Nguyen Quang A told Agence France-Presse.
Wearing red headbands and carrying white roses with black ribbons saying "The people will never forget," the protesters walked instead around the central Hoan Kiem lake before laying floral tributes and making speeches at the Ngoc Son Temple, AFP reported.
The Chinese government has been equally unwilling to encourage any public memorial for the war, activist Qu Shaowei said.
"The government hasn't produced any materials of its own, like television or literary publications," he said.
"They don't respect the lives of those young heroes that were cut off in their prime."
"As their comrades, we have pledged to do it if they won't," Qu said.
PLA veterans in dire straits
Large numbers of PLA veterans say they are now suffering extreme economic hardship in spite of their service to the nation, giving rise to their slogan, "No money for the doctor, nowhere to turn for help," activists say.
Since 2008, the government has stripped away the status of PLA veterans and former military cadres, leaving thousands with no income at all.
Retired military personnel have been cited by officials and activists as a highly sensitive sector of the population, who might swing a tide of public opinion in their favor and against the Communist Party because of their proven loyalty to party and country.
Reported by Jiang Pei for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.