Residents of Wuxi in Jiangsu province were left confused after police staged an armed robbery exercise at a bank on a crowded street in the city without first informing the public.
People became alarmed after they saw two knife-wielding "robbers" grab a bag of cash from a "citizen" outside the bank, hijack a car and speed away.
The incident on Wednesday was all the more unsettling as the drill bore similarities to robberies suspected to have been carried out by Zhou Kehua , who police shot dead on Tuesday following a massive manhunt in Chongqing .
The Wuxi police bureau released a short statement after the drill, saying it had achieved "expected results".
After receiving a report of the "robbery", police headquarters sent traffic patrols and SWAT teams across the city. The "robbers" ran into police checkpoints several times and escaped, but they were eventually "caught".
Residents said they supported the effort but hoped the government would notify them in advance next time.
An employee of a bakery near the bank where the robbery was staged said staff had not been informed about the drill by the police.
"I don't think there was a panic but I do hope the authorities will be more considerate when planning another drill like this," the employee, who declined to be named, said. "Some people may mistake the 'robbers' for real and have a heart attack."
An employee at the bank, a branch of the Bank of Jiangsu, said they also did not have advance notice. She declined to comment on the drill, saying the topic was sensitive.
The incident was widely discussed online. Detailed witness accounts were released on Sina Weibo, the mainland's largest microblogging platform.
Some of the comments included concerns that Zhou, who was alleged to have killed 10 people in a spate of robberies since 2004, had become an idol for robbers and would-be criminals.
Some bloggers commented that residents could sue the government for the lack of advance notice about the police exercise.