Free-speech protesters clashed with Communist party supporters in southern China on Tuesday, as a local dispute about government censorship spilled over into a nationwide online protest.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered Tuesday for a second day outside the progressive Southern Weekly
in Guangzhou, where some journalists have gone on strike to protest alleged government editorial interference.
Minor scuffles broke out after activists holding signs and chanting slogans calling for media freedom were confronted by a small group of party loyalists who waved Chinese flags and held posters of Chairman Mao.
The protesters are calling for the resignation of the provincial propaganda chief after censors last week allegedly blocked a New Year's editorial urging greater constitutional rights. The article was replaced with another praising the party's achievements.
The open protest against state censorship - the first of its kind in years - is seen as a key test for China's incoming leader Xi Jinping, who has called for the government to be more open.
Related - Chinese Paper Has Long History of Challenging Authorities
Kerry Brown, who heads the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney, says he does not expect Beijing to make any major concessions, such as dismissing the provincial propaganda official.
"If journalists were able to do that in such a key area...then they've really got a big scalp. And that will probably give the sniff of blood to others," Brown said. "I think if the party does that, it will probably be construed as a sign of weakness, and I don't think the party will be willing to pay that price at the moment."
Even though the protests outside the newspaper were relatively small Tuesday, a steady stream of Chinese celebrities, journalists and other public figures have applied pressure on Beijing by expressing their support for the paper in social media.
Related - Chinese Censorship Debate Grows Online
In an effort to limit public discussion on the matter, Chinese authorities have blocked searches for the name of the paper on the country's wildly popular microblogs. But many users were able to bypass censors by posting pictures and other cryptic messages that decried government censorship.
The government has so far not responded, and has allowed the protests to take place. But an editorial in the state-run Global Times
on Tuesday said there will be no "surprise ending" to the situation, and that China is "unlikely to have an 'absolutely free media' that is dreamed of by those activists."
A supporter of the Southern Weekly newspaper in a wheelchair chants slogans in front of police officers near the newspaper's office in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, January 10, 2013.
A protester is taken away by plainclothes police officers and placed in a jeep near the office of Southern Weekly newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, January 10, 2013.
Leftists carrying portraits of the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong demonstrate outside the office of the liberal Southern Weekly newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, January 9, 2013.
Police separate a supporter of the Southern Weekly from confronting leftists protesting outside the office of the liberal newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, January 9, 2013.
A police officer walks past supporters of Southern Weekly demonstrating outside the office of the liberal newspaper in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, January 9, 2013.
Demonstrators hold banners outside the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China, January 8, 2013.
Demonstrators hold banners, portraits of China's late Chairman Mao Zedong, and Chinese national flags next to police outside the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper, January 8, 2013.
A man lays a bouquet of chrysanthemums in front of the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper, January 7, 2013.
Demonstrators gather along a street near the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper, January 7, 2013.
Security guards stand near protest banners and flowers are laid outside the headquarters of Southern Weekly newspaper, January 7, 2013.