A Chinese win over South Korea in the soccer World Cup qualifiers sent nationalist supporters into a frenzy in the central province of Hunan on Thursday, amid rising political tensions and boycotts of South Korean goods.
China beat South Korea 1-0 in the provincial capital Changsha as the ruling Chinese Communist Party deployed around 10,000 riot police and armored vehicles in the city, with police helicopters circling above.
Most of the 37,000 crowd were Chinese supporters who displayed nationalist slogans, some painted on their bodies, and many of whom used the occasion to make their displeasure known to Seoul.
Photos of fans sent to RFA showed a sea of red flags as well as a barechested fan with "Winning Glory For My Country" emblazoned on his body in black characters.
Only about 100 South Korean fans, however, turned up to Changsha's Helong stadium to watch the match and were surrounded by enough police to give each fan his own personal bodyguard, according to state media reports.
Photos showed riot police standing in long lines amid temporary traffic barriers outside the stadium, while the Global Times reported that external screens that normally relay the match live to people outside were switched off.
The game came as a hashtag urged fans to make the match part of the anti-South Korean campaign, which has appeared sporadically across the country, and has also resulted in a sharp fall in Chinese tourists to the country.
South Korea announcement earlier this month that it had begun deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) antimissile system sparked a backlash across China, with some hotels saying they wouldn't take South Korean guests.
The move has drawn strong diplomatic protests from Beijing, and sparked demonstrations and store closures at outlets of the South Korea retail chain Lotte across China, as well as the public destruction of South Korean goods.
Undercover police officers
A Changsha resident surnamed Hu said tickets that were officially priced at 580 yuan (U.S. $84) were selling for more than 1,000 yuan (U.S. $145) ahead of the match.
Many people wanted to go to experience the atmosphere, rather than watch the game, Hu said, adding that many "fans" were carrying identical goodie bags.
"Each person carried a plastic bag in his hand, which had various things in it, including a raincoat, bottled water, a cushion," he said. "This would mean they could get into the grounds for nothing."
He said the "fans," who were shown in photos sent to RFA, were likely undercover law enforcement.
"They were probably there to report back on the situation from inside the ground," Hu said. "I am guessing that there were around 1,000 of these people."
He said he a large number of the fans appeared to have come from elsewhere in China.
"I think there were fans from Dalian and Wuhan who came, wearing all kinds of weird costumes and slogans," he said. "One had 'loyal to my country!' written on him."
A Changsha resident surnamed Ou said the popular mood was sparked by the row over the THAAD missile defense system, which Beijing says will compromise its military security because of the strength of its scanning technology.
"It's about opposing THAAD," Ou said. "The momentum still hasn't gone out of the anti-Lotte movement either."
"The government probably wants to keep control so that any mass incidents don't get out of hand, which is why there was such a strong security presence," he said. "They sent one police officer for every three fans."
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the Chinese government would continue to ensure the safety and legal treatment of any foreign institution operating in China.
Meanwhile, Chinese military affairs analyst Huang Dong said the buildup of weaponry along China's coast, including the deployment of the Dongfeng-31A missile, is worrying.
"Who's to say whether or not there will be a misfire one day? It's very hard to predict, and I think an incident in either the South China Sea or the East China Sea is a possibility," Huang said.
But he said the U.S. bears the main responsibility for the increase in regional tensions.
"The U.S. is still the source of the discord, so it's a bit strange that China has picked its quarrels with South Korea lately," Huang said.
"THAAD wasn't manufactured by South Korea, after all," he said. "It is just part of its attempts to defend itself ... From a military perspective, it's worth watching out for when China finally decides to direct its demonstrations at the United States."
Reported by Ding Wenqi for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.