BEIJING — Jittery Chinese authorities wary of any domestic dissent staged a show of force Sunday to squelch a mysterious online call for a "Jasmine Revolution," with only a handful of people joining protests apparently modeled on the pro-democracy demonstrations sweeping the Middle East.
Authorities detained activists, increased the number of police on the streets, disconnected some cell phone text messaging services and censored Internet postings about the call to stage protests in Beijing, Shanghai and 11 other major cities.
Police took at least three people away in Beijing, one of whom tried to place white jasmine flowers on a planter while hundreds of people milled about the protest gathering spot, outside a McDonald's on the capital's busiest shopping street. In Shanghai, police led away three people near the planned protest spot after they scuffled in an apparent bid to grab the attention of passersby.
Many activists said they didn't know who was behind the campaign and weren't sure what to make of the call to protest, which first circulated Saturday on the U.S.-based Chinese-language news website Boxun.com.
The unsigned notice called for a "Jasmine Revolution" — the name given to the Tunisian protest movement — and urged people "to take responsibility for the future." Participants were urged to shout, "We want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness" — a slogan that highlights common complaints among Chinese.
The call is likely to fuel anxiety in China's authoritarian government, which is ever alert for domestic discontent and has appeared unnerved by protests in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria and Libya. It has limited media reports about them, stressing the instability caused by the protests, and restricted Internet searches to keep Chinese uninformed about Middle Easterners' grievances against their autocratic rulers.
Though there are many similarities between the complaints voiced by Middle East citizens and the everyday troubles of Chinese, Beijing's tight grip on the country's media, Internet and other communication forums poses difficulties for anyone trying to organize mass demonstrations.
Extensive Internet filtering meant that most Chinese were unlikely to know about the call to protest Sunday. Boxun.com is blocked, as are Twitter and Facebook, which were instrumental in Egypt's protest movement.
Antigovernment gatherings in China are routinely stamped out by its security forces, which are well-funded and well-equipped. A pro-democracy movement in 1989 that challenged the Communist government was crushed by the military and hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed.