Authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou have held at least four people following a protest by scores of activists demanding steamed buns or "baozi"—which have become a new symbol of social justice after a much-publicized visit by President Xi Jinping to a regular Beijing eatery last month.
Police on Tuesday raided the homes of three protesters who had asked to visit those detained after the Jan. 8 protest by about 60 people during which they held up a banner that read: "President Xi, we want to eat baozi."
Hangzhou activist Zou Wei told RFA that since he showed up outside the detention center where fellow activists Liang Liwan and Zhang Jinhuo were being held, he has been taken on "vacation" by police to a resort outside the city.
Activists Zhu Yingdi and Chen Meijia are also being held under close guard.
Liang's husband, who gave only his surname Dai, said the couple's home was also under close surveillance.
"From about 3.00 p.m. on Monday the plainclothes police started squatting at the door," he said. "In the evenings, there is a police vehicle, and they opened the lock and came into our home today."
He said he had received no official word of his wife's whereabouts.
"I am calling Liang Liwan's cell phone [but it's not getting through]," Dai said. "I don't know where she is...I will go to the police station in a while [to inquire]."
President Xi's visit to eat baozi was widely seen as a bid to show a more down-to-earth side of the ruling Chinese Communist Party after photographs of former U.S. Ambassador to Beijing Gary Locke queuing up at Starbucks impressed Chinese netizens, drawing unfavorable comparisons with their own officials' opulent lifestyles.
But the simple meal has now become a symbol of social justice among China's tens of thousands of petitioners pursuing complaints over official wrongdoing.
The Hangzhou protest, which followed an earlier one in Beijing, wanted to use the reference to steamed buns to publicize their campaign for compensation over the demolition of their homes.
Xi shocked patrons and restaurant staff when he visited the restaurant on Dec. 30, paid for his food, carried his own tray, and was pictured chatting to customers.
Chinese officials usually have a preference for carefully stage-managed appearances arranged through the Communist Party's propaganda arm.
His trip sparked a craze for baozi at the restaurant, with lines of more than 400 people forming the day after Xi's visit to order the same pork and onion buns, fried liver, and stir-fried greens that he ate.
Customers waited in line for 40 minutes for their food and a photo in front of Xi's table, local media reported at the time.
Since taking office in March, Xi has demanded officials cut down on waste and extravagance and get closer to the people, as part of a broader campaign against corruption.
Xi has warned that the party must beat graft in order to survive, and has launched a campaign targeting powerful "tigers" as well as lowly "flies."
But rights groups say dozens of activists who called on high-ranking officials to reveal details of their wealth have been detained in recent months.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.