Police in China showed up in force in several major cities after an online call for a "jasmine revolution".
Calls for people to protest and shout "we want food, we want work, we want housing, we want fairness", were circulated on Chinese microblog sites.
The message was first posted on a US-based Chinese-language website.
Several rights activists were detained beforehand and three people were arrested in Shanghai, but the call for mass protests was not well answered.
Reports from Shanghai and Beijing said there appeared to be many onlookers curious about the presence of so many police and journalists at the proposed protest sites, in busy city-centre shopping areas.
Police in the two cities dispersed small crowds who had gathered. There were no reports of protests in 11 other cities where people were urged to gather on Sunday.
The BBC's Chris Hogg in Shanghai says the men arrested there were roughly handled as they were dragged away shouting "why are you arresting me, I haven't done anything wrong".
Our correspondent says it was not clear what prompted the arrests and the men had not shouted any political slogans.
China's authorities blocked searches for the word jasmine on the internet.
Protesters in Tunisia who overthrew President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January called their movement the Jasmine Revolution.
On Saturday President Hu Jintao called for stricter controls on the internet "to guide public opinion" and "solve prominent problems which might harm the harmony and stability of the society".