BEIJING: If anyone wonders whether the Chinese government has tightened its grip on electronic communications since protests began engulfing the Arab world, Shakespeare may prove instructive.

A Beijing entrepreneur, discussing restaurant choices with his fiancee over their mobile phones last week, quoted Queen Gertrude's response to Hamlet: ''The lady doth protest too much, methinks.'' The second time he said the word protest, her phone cut off.

He spoke English, but another caller, repeating the same phrase on Monday in Chinese over a different phone, was also cut off in mid-sentence. A host of evidence over the past several weeks shows that Chinese authorities are more determined than ever to police mobile phone calls, electronic messages, email and access to the internet in order to smother any hint of anti-government sentiment. In the cat-and-mouse game that characterises electronic communications in China, analysts suggest that the cat is getting bigger, especially since revolts began to ricochet through the Middle East and North Africa, and home-grown efforts to organise protests in Chinese cities began to circulate on the internet about a month ago.

''The hardliners have won the field, and now we are seeing exactly how they want to run the place,'' said Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing analyst, of China's leadership. ''I think the gloves are coming off.''

On Sunday, Google accused the Chinese government of disrupting its Gmail service and making it appear as if technical problems at Google - not government intervention - were to blame.

The New York Times