Several hundred former soldiers of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) from the southeastern province of Fujian have made a trip to the graves of those who died fighting during China's short border war with Vietnam in 1979.
Wearing their full uniforms, the veterans swept and tended the graves of their fallen comrades near Pingxiang in the southwestern province of Guangxi, amid tight security and an ongoing dispute with the ruling Chinese Communist Party over pensions and other benefits they says they were promised after demobilization.
Some made traditional mourning bows with weeping for lost family members, while friends and former comrades stood around in silence and others burned packets of spirit money and incense for the dead.
"Commanding officer, today is March 26, 2017," one man addresses a grave marked "Martyr Lin Fengyun" at a military cemetery in Guangxi.
"I have come to see you, but also to scold you, because you told us, just before you led us into action, that our motherland wouldn't forget us," the man said in a video of the ceremony sent to RFA. "So we followed you into the charge, fought the enemy heroically, and won an order of merit ribbon."
"But since we went back home, our local governments have been ... treating us as a threat to stability maintenance instead," he said.
"Commanding officer, what can we do? If I'd known this back then, I think I would have preferred to die on the battlefield, because it would be better than being alive."
Several thousand attend
A veteran from Fujian who declined to be named told RFA on Wednesday that several thousand veterans in total had attended the official grave-tending event, and that several hundred had traveled from Fujian to attend.
"It was on March 25 and 26," he said. "Between 300 and 500 of us went from Fujian."
A second veteran said other gatherings had continued after the official event.
"There are some grave-tending events still going on on the fringes, and in other locations," he said.
"Some are in [Guangxi's capital] Guizhou, some are in Yunnan, and some are just old comrades meeting up with each other because they haven't seen each other for so long."
"They are gathering together from all over," he said.
Authorities fear anger
Local governments are increasingly nervous that such events could turn into mass eruptions of anger over nonpayment of pensions and other benefits to PLA veterans.
Leaked documents seen by RFA show a March 24 directive issued by Fujian's Quanzhou police department warning local governments in Fujian about the possibility of "mass petitioning in Beijing."
Tens of thousands of veterans have appeared outside the Central Military Commission in Beijing in mass demonstrations twice during the past year, in spite of widespread security checks aimed at preventing them.
"PLA veterans from across China will be doing their utmost to gather in Beijing to lodge a petition," the document warned.
Mass demonstrations outside the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) on Feb. 22 and outside the CMC on Oct. 11 highlighted local governments' failure to deliver promised pension, medical, and social security benefits to demobilized PLA soldiers, who are regarded by Beijing as one of the country's most politically sensitive groups.
While officials from the Central Military Commission (CMC) ordered provincial and city leaders to Beijing to address the crisis, the veterans say promises that changes would begin to be implemented from Jan. 1 haven't been kept.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.