An editorial in the ruling Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper taking aim at Japan amid an ongoing row over the 1937 Nanjing massacre has drawn fire from netizens and political commentators, who have linked its hard-hitting headline to the 1989 military crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests.
The signed People's Daily commentary titled "Japan's gangster logic: We can massacre a city, but you can't speak out," had been intended as a well-aimed blow at Tokyo, which last week urged Beijing to call off its bid to have papers linked to the "Rape of Nanjing" listed as world heritage documents by the United Nations.
Instead, the headline drew scores of satirical comments and verbal abuse from China's netizens on popular social media sites on Monday.
"So is this the case with Tiananmen Square in Beijing?" Sina Weibo user @ELLA_yan commented on a tweet that highlighted the article.
"The Japs were evil because their gangster logic targeted another country; and that other country is evil because its gangster logic targets its own people," wrote user @jiazhouzaixian.
And user @freeleewei added: "If you didn't know, you might think we were talking about 1989, not 1937."
Other users complained about the often violent treatment meted out by local governments by those during forced evictions, while some described both governments as "fascist" and "as bad as each other."
Others were quick to poke fun at what they perceived to be a political blunder on the part of the People's Daily.
"Has the People's Daily shot itself in the foot?" quipped user @liuxu2009, while @Adachushengzaimeiguo wrote: "The stupid c***s have shot themselves in the foot again!"
Meanwhile user @gedeengecaixiang "chuckled," adding: "They made a mistake with the headline, which should have read 'You can massacre a city, but I'm not allowed to speak out?'"
Earlier this month, Beijing extended a massive censorship operation to target popular social media sites, banning keyword searches linked to the 1989 Tiananmen Square military crackdown 25 years ago and a mass vigil in Hong Kong's Victoria Park.
The party's powerful but secretive central propaganda ministry also issued censorship instructions to the country's tightly controlled media, ordering editors to avoid any reference to June 4 or 1989.
On the popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo and similar social media sites, censors quickly located and deleted posts containing the banned terms, while large numbers of accounts and chat groups were shut down, users said.
Keywords like "June 4, 1989" and "6.4" are often blocked to China's 620 million Internet users, who find ever more ingenious ways to elude censorship.
Netizens have used terms such as "Something Something Square" and "May 35th" to get around the blocks and filters, although "May 35th" began to be blocked for the first time last month.
Former top Communist Party aide Bao Tong, who has been under house arrest at his Beijing home since serving a seven-year jail term in the wake of the 1989 crackdown, said the paper had touched on a "universal truth."
"There shouldn't be a double standard [in such matters]," Bao said in an interview on Sunday after returning from forced "vacation" outside Beijing under police escort during the 25th anniversary of the June 4,1989 bloodshed.
"Neither the Japanese nor the Chinese should get away with massacres," Bao said. "The commentator was right; it is gangster logic, regardless of who is being massacred."
"This article should get some kind of prize," he said.
China says 300,000 people died as advancing Japanese troops rampaged through the city, while an international military tribunal in 1948 estimated that more than 200,000 Chinese were killed.
Beijing recently applied to have its historical archives on the massacre and the widespread forcing of "comfort women" into prostitution admitted to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
Contemporary reports said at least 20,000 women and girls were raped, amid reports of other widespread atrocities including torture.
Numbers still unclear
Japan has acknowledged that the massacre took place, though its historians say Beijing has inflated the figures.
However, the number of people killed when People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops moved their tanks into Beijing, opening fire on civilians and putting a bloody end to weeks of peaceful, student-led protest on Tiananmen Square, remains a mystery.
Beijing authorities once put the death toll at "nearly 300," but has never issued an official toll or list of names, and has always maintained that the violence was necessary to end the unrest.
The leadership has also ignored growing calls for a public reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, which the party styled a "counterrevolutionary rebellion."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.