Authorities in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing are reported to be backpedaling rapidly on the populist policies of the city's ousted Party chief Bo Xilai, whose fall from power last week highlighted power struggles within the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Amateurs who had once regularly gathered in a square in the city center to sing "red songs," revolutionary anthems from the Mao era, have now been told to stop because they are "annoying the neighbors," residents said.
The meetings had been part of a high-profile policy by Bo's government to encourage a return to the "purer" socialist values of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)
But Bo's dismissal last Thursday came just a day after Premier Wen Jiabao warned the nation of the perils of a return to an era of political turmoil and endless factional warfare.
"They won't let anyone sing red songs any more," said a resident surnamed Hu who lives near the square. "No one has been to the square to sing songs and dance since March 15," she said, referring to the date that Bo's ouster was announced.
"What can we do about it? We're just ordinary people," she said.
Chongqing-based lawyer Zheng Jianwei said that another regular revolutionary sing-in at the city's Jingshan Park had also been canceled at the weekend, while a number of leftist political websites had been blocked since the announcement.
"This is a question of freedom of expression," Zheng said. "The singing of revolutionary songs and the freedom to take part in demonstrations are all ways of freely expressing one's opinions."
"Why aren't they allowed to do it? This is a setback for democracy," he said, adding that a number of activities usually organized by leftist groups, including a farewell rally for Bo in central Chongqing, had been prevented by police and all reference to them deleted from the Internet.
Among the websites reportedly blocked were "Utopia" and "Mao Flag," although both were accessible outside China on Monday.
China's leaders appeared to be taking no chances with security, with a high-profile police presence on the streets of major cities, including Chengdu, since Bo's fall from grace, residents said.
Since Bo's ouster on March 15, residents of the Sichuan provincial capital Chengdu have reported increased patrols of armored police vehicles on the city's streets, suggesting the authorities fear a repeat of the scandal which triggered Bo's downfall, in which his graft-busting police chief Wang Lijun made a clandestine visit to the U.S. consulate.
Chengdu-based rights activist Huang Qi confirmed online reports of tighter security in the city, which is a four-hour drive from Chongqing.
"Since the removal from office of Mr. Bo Xilai, we have seen a lot of additional police security in Chengdu," Huang said. "There are police on the streets carrying assault rifles."
"We have also seen a lot of police vehicles, including some that look like armored cars," Huang said.
Sources said China's leaders had ordered tighter security and a stronger police presence on the streets of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and other major cities since Bo's dismissal.
Hong Kong media have reported that Bo's revolutionary song promotional events and his high-profile campaigns against organized crime were the first policies to go, as the megacity's new leadership moved to consolidate its power in a series of emergency political meetings in recent days, Hong Kong media reported.
While China's hugely popular microblogs are awash with rumor, satire, and speculation, real information has been hard to come by since the charismatic politician's fall from grace, with analysts resigned to reading between the lines of official reports once again.
In stark black-and-white headlines in the official Chongqing Daily on Saturday, newly arrived Party chief Zhang Dejiang was proclaimed to be "upholding central government decisions," in his new high-profile post which answers directly to central government in Beijing.
According to Hong Kong's Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper, Zhang's arrival will likely herald a purge of officials loyal to Bo across the entire municipal government from the local People's Congress to Party committee to civil society groups and courts and prosecutors' offices.
Jin Zhong, editor-in-chief of Hong Kong's Kaifang, or Open, magazine, said the reports of a purge of Bo-linked officials seemed likely.
"I don't know exactly what will happen to these people, but if they are Bo Xilai's staunch allies, and they are crucial to implementing a lot of policy, then of course they will get rid of them," Jin said.
"One important character in this is [Chongqing mayor] Huang Qifan," Jin said. "He will be an indicator to watch."
In Chinese cities, mayors head the government apparatus, but the municipal Party secretaries carry the lion's share of political power.
No word on fate
There has still been no official word on Bo's fate since the announcement last week that he would no longer serve as Chongqing Party secretary, sparking speculation among Chinese netizens that Bo has become a guinea-pig for the implementation of new criminal procedure rules allowing secret detention of suspects.
Controversial Beijing University professor Kong Qingdong has claimed that Bo should be charged with "starting a revolutionary coup," while other commentators say his fall has more to do with factional loyalties at the highest echelons of power than with ideological disputes.
Huang said that Bo's level of support among ordinary Chinese was still fairly high, however.
"Kong is just claiming to speak for the people," he said.
Hong Kong-based media commentator Wu Yisan said the majority of Chinese are used to being kept totally in the dark about political developments in their own country.
"The Communist Party has never told the truth to the people about all the bad things that Mao Zedong did," Wu said. "They just cover it up."
"Mao himself was corrupt and morally degenerate."
Reported by Xin Yu and Jiang Pei for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.