Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Hainan have banned a traditional dragon dance which sparked clashes between dancers and police this week, police said on Friday.
Hainan's Haitou township was surrounded by armed police late on Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's planned dragon dance, in which silk-clad dancers form the "legs" of a painted silk dragon with twists, turns, and jumps throughout the streets of the town.
Clashes broke out between police and the "legs" of the dragon on Wednesday after police prevented the dancers from setting off around the town, the overseas-based Jasmine Revolution news website reported.
Several villagers were injured and detained in the clashes, even though they didn't fight back against police who were beating them, the report said.
The dragon dance is a celebratory ritual typically performed around Chinese New Year, which began at the end of January, and has been a fixture of the festive season in the area for several hundred years, residents said.
But this year, Haitou's local government dispatched more than 100 armed police to Nali village, where the dance traditionally begins, because they said it had "an ulterior motive."
"This event doesn't happen every year, and this year's dragon dance had an ulterior motive," an official who answered the phone at the Haitou township government said.
"Also, it makes a mess of Nali village, and this year's dance was organized by people who had just gotten out of prison," the official said. "Most of the villagers didn't support it."
The official denied the government was trying to suppress local customs.
"All normal customs are allowed to go ahead normally," he said. "We don't interfere."
He gave no further details of the villagers' motivation in holding the dance.
Wary of gatherings
However, thousands of "mass incidents" take place across China every year, triggered by the requisitioning of rural land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments.
Many rural protests result in violent suppression, the detention of the main organizers, and intense pressure on the local population to comply with the government's wishes.
Online commentator and activist Wu Bin, known by his nickname "Xiucai Jianghu," said governments were increasingly fearful of any large-scale gatherings, against a backdrop of growing anger over official corruption.
"The government are hypocrites, because they are thieves themselves," Wu said. "They are afraid that if people gather, that the slightest breeze could cause political instability."
"So they stamp out the first signs of activity as soon as they appear."
China in 2012 earmarked 701 billion yuan (U.S. $112 billion) in funding for "stability maintenance," an increase of over 30 billion from 2011.
Reported by Wen Jian for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Pan Jiaqing and Yang Jian for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.