BEIJING — Hundreds of people staged an anti-Japan protest in southwestern China on Saturday, even as school officials there ordered students to attend classes over the weekend in hopes of preventing a repeat of rowdy demonstrations over the past weeks.
Rumors had been circulating that students in several cities would protest again this weekend, following several demonstrations that vented anger with Japan for its detention of a Chinese fishing boat captain.
Last month, the fishing boat collided with Japanese patrol vessels near a chain of islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by both countries. The dispute quickly spiraled into a major diplomatic standoff, though tensions have begun to subside.
A large crowd began gathering Saturday morning at Deyang city's Confucian Temple Square and demonstrators marched in the afternoon, said a woman surnamed Zhang who works in a nearby music shop. There were hundreds of people and the square was packed, she said.
The anti-Japan protesters were mostly students, said a man surnamed Ye who works at an optical shop close to the square and saw the march pass by about 3 p.m.
The protest took place despite a heavy police presence, Zhang said. By evening, the protesters had left but many police remained in the square.
It was not known whether there was any violence or clashes with police. Phones at the Deyang city government and police department rang unanswered Saturday evening.
The protest came as education officials in Deyang and the central Chinese city of Changsha ordered classes to remain in session over the weekend in hopes of heading off any protests.
Students from elementary schools to universities were to attend class in Sichuan province's Deyang, said a woman at the city education bureau. Another woman at a middle school in the city said the move was intended to prevent students from joining protests.
With the protest in Deyang attracting a huge crowd, it was not known how many students attended class on Saturday.
A woman at a middle school in the Hunan province city of Changsha confirmed mandatory weekend classes at schools there as well.
The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said students in Changsha had been circulating Internet messages about a planned demonstration on Saturday.
University students in other Chinese cities were forbidden to leave their campuses, the center said.
Though the student protests last week began peacefully, some spun out of control, with marchers carrying racist banners and smashing cars and windows at Japanese retailers. Authorities in China typically shut down protests quickly, but the demonstrations were initially tolerated.