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China cracks down ahead of sensitive anniversaries

A professor was beaten after visiting the grave of a discredited leader. Other previously tolerated activities have also become taboo.

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An elderly retired professor is beaten black and blue by thugs, under the noses of the police, for stubbornly honoring the memory of an officially disgraced former leader.

A well-known social commentator's website is shut down after posting articles moderately critical of arbitrary detentions.

One of Beijing's biggest dailies has to remove from its website an editorial supporting citizen supervision of government – which government censors found unacceptable.

This pattern of incidents over the past 10 days highlights a new wave of crackdowns that Chinese officials have launched to forestall any hint of unrest, as they brace for a string of politically sensitive anniversaries this year.

Chinese political reformers, who had hoped for a more relaxed atmosphere after the 2008 Olympic Games went well, have been disappointed.

"Things are going backwards," complains Hu Xingdou, the economics professor whose website was closed last month because local Internet censors in the city of Suzhou, near Shanghai, suddenly objected to articles that had been up on the site for more than a year without causing a stir.

"I hope that what's been happening is related to 2009, and that we won't continue to slide backwards in the future," he adds.

Tiananmen's 20th anniversary looms

Chinese leaders appear nervous about two key anniversaries this year. On June 4, 1989, Chinese troops fired on protesting students in Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds and crushing prospects for serious political reform in China. On Oct. 1, the government will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.

"The government is especially sensitive and alert," says Sun Wenguang, the retired professor who had three ribs broken by thugs on Saturday.

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