Police in central China have come under fire on social media over their handling of a protest by teachers demanding unpaid performance bonuses, the latest in a series of reported demonstrations by educators.

The public security bureau in Lu’an, a small town in Anhui province, said it launched an investigation into allegations that officers beat some of the teachers during Sunday’s demonstration.

Some 200 teachers had marched to the municipal government office with banners demanding arrears and better treatment, according to Hong Kong-based human rights blog The Activists’ Network.

Photos: Weiquanwang.

But a statement by the security bureau said only about 40 teachers had gathered outside the gate of the local government office.

“They refused to follow staff advice and seriously disrupted public order,” the police said.

“A small number of offenders were removed from the scene”, police said, adding that all those detained were later released.

The bureau has already conducted an investigation to “verify claims made online that police beat the teachers, and results will be announced in a timely manner”, it said.

Photos and an unverified video being circulated on Chinese social media show police officers pulling and shoving individuals as they try to escape arrest and a woman is shown on a hospital stretcher, although no injuries are visible.

The incident triggered an outpouring of sympathy online with hundreds of comments saying police officers had been rough with the teachers.

Authorities swiftly break up protests in China, where officials are wary of large gatherings getting out of their control.

“This style of trying to tackle people voicing issues instead of solving problems is spreading all over the country,” one commenter wrote.

“How will these teachers talk about the socialist core values that include freedom and fairness with students after this? Or is it all a joke?” another said.

The handling of the protest has touched a raw nerve with the Chinese public, because low pay has made it difficult for rural and small-town schools to attract and retain teachers.

Statement from the Lu’an public security bureau. Photo: Weibo.

Reports and comments on the incident have been quickly taken down from Chinese social media sites, making it difficult to gather details about the protest, said Geoffrey Crothall, communications director for the China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based non-profit that supports worker movements in China.

Poor pay, unpaid performance bonuses and lack of pensions were major grievances affecting teachers in the country, Crothall said.

A strike map compiled by the organisation showed that there were nearly 30 protests by teachers – mostly in small towns and rural areas – across China this year.

“There has been an uptick in activism by teachers in recent months, but these tend to happen in waves,” he said.

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