BEIJING — For more than a week, Bao Tong, a former senior Communist Party official now under strict surveillance, openly promoted an insider’s account of Chinese political infighting sure to be banned in China.
The book is the posthumous memoir by Mr. Bao’s boss, Zhao Ziyang, the Communist Party chief fired in 1989 for opposing the use of troops to quash pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Before his death in 2005, Mr. Zhao furtively recorded his account of that period.
When the memoir became public last week, Mr. Bao, the most senior Communist Party official imprisoned after the crackdown, quickly claimed responsibility. In a string of interviews with the foreign press that security officials did not initially seek to prevent, he said he had collaborated with other liberal party elders to slip the cassette recordings out of the country for publication.
“In the past, the minute these things appear, the party would say, ‘This is turmoil; we must crack down,’ ” he said in one telephone conversation early this week. “But if the party can maintain this current calm, then maybe it can eventually be saved.”
By Friday, though, the government’s restraint appeared to be wearing thin.
Highlights of Mr. Zhao’s memoir and audio clips of his original dictation, which were accessible for days within the mainland on the Web sites of American newspapers, including The New York Times, now appear to be blocked.
And Mr. Bao’s run of unfettered press availability ended. Mr. Bao said by telephone late Friday that he had just been informed he could no longer accept interviews “starting right now.”
Shortly beforehand, he said, security officials barred him from receiving a CBS television crew. Chuckling apologetically, he added, “If you want an interview with me, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until after June 4.”
The mix of approaches — seemingly relaxed oversight at times, an iron hand at others — is characteristic of government efforts to prevent major commemorations of the June 4, 1989, crackdown without calling too much attention to Beijing’s methods.
This year, facing a number of major political anniversaries and a stumbling economy, the party has put one of its most senior officials, Vice President Xi Jinping, the presumptive heir to President Hu Jintao, in charge of a special unit to “preserve stability” and to prevent unauthorized political activities.
The authorities have tended to respond to perceived threats more surgically and subtly than they might have 5 or 10 years ago, a number of activists said.
Top leaders now seem more sensitive to the outcry that tough tactics to suppress dissent can provoke online, overseas or within different wings of the party itself, and they often avoid immediate, draconian responses to issues like Mr. Zhao’s memoir or Mr. Bao’s interviews.
“The authorities have modified their strategy,” said a democracy advocate, Zhang Zuhua, a top official in the Communist Youth League in the 1980s, who was dismissed for backing the democracy protests. “They are not loosening up. But they also do not want to make trouble for themselves by creating an incident.”
He said small groups of mourners had gathered privately in Xi’an, Hangzhou, Shandong Province, Guangdong Province, Beijing and other places to mark June 4 early. He counted at least five or six cases of activists’ being interrogated, searched or stopped during activities. But to his knowledge, he said, “no one has been newly arrested because of these activities.”
On Sunday in Beijing, a contingent of more than 50 parents of young people killed in the crackdown, the Tiananmen Mothers, gathered to mourn. Zhang Xianling, who hosted the event, said state security officials found out about their plans two or three days before, but permitted the gathering, provided the parents did not stage demonstrations or invite foreign journalists or others outside their families.
The group’s gatherings this year have been larger and freer from harassment than 5 or 10 years ago, though security officials did stop its founder, retired Prof. Ding Zilin, from attending Sunday. “It’s a superficial improvement, not a fundamental one,” Ms. Zhang said.