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The armed police’s primary mission is to prevent and suppress any domestic challenge to the communist government and any social disturbances deemed dangerous to the stability of the regime. Within hours of the quake, more than 7,500 of its troops were dispatched to Ya’an to watch for any possible “mass incidents.”

PLA headquarters’ major operational departments, including the General Staff and General Logistics, issued orders to take swift action in support of the relief operation.

But it was the General Political Department, the most powerful branch of the headquarters, that was the busiest. The department is in charge of propaganda, indoctrination and political studies of the PLA.

The PLA Daily, the official military newspaper, went into high gear to amplify relief operations with quick updates on its website.

The General Political Department issued instructions Saturday to soldiers and officers, urging them to “resolutely implement the instructions of Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission.”

To highlight the maximum glorification of the PLA role in relief efforts, the civilian State Council’s General Office on Monday issued a separate order banning all local and voluntary rescue efforts by all individuals and groups other than the military-led operations.

“All regions, departments, units and organizations should not organize rescue initiatives on their own, and are not allowed to go to the quake-stricken area,” the order bluntly stated.

After the 2008 earthquake in a nearby area, many volunteers and spontaneous aid groups were severely harassed by the police, with several people jailed for organizing grass-roots rescue and relief efforts.

Tan Zuoren, a writer, rights activist and environmentalist, is one of the more prominent figures jailed on charges of “inciting subversion of state power” after the 2008 quake in nearby Wenchuan. Ironically, he was serving a five-year jail sentence above the epicenter in Ya’an when the earthquake occurred Saturday.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @yu_miles.