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Chinese censors cut communism, dissent from Obama speech

AFP, January 21, 2009

SHANGHAI (AFP) China's communist authorities censored translations of US President Barack Obama's inauguration speech, deleting his references to communism and regimes that quash dissent.

However their efforts appeared to backfire after the omissions drew even more attention to those words on Internet forums.

"Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions," Obama said in his speech.

State-run China Central Television broadcast the speech live, but when the translator mentioned communism, the channel suddenly cut to an awkwardly smiling news anchor who was clearly unprepared for the camera to return to her.

Another excerpt that did not make it past the Chinese censors was a warning from Obama to regimes that tried to quash opposing ideas, a sensitive issue in China where many dissidents languish in jail or are under police surveillance.

"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist," Obama said.

The People's Daily, the Communist Party's mouthpiece published a translated text of the speech on its website, omitting the word communism. The line about dissent was cut entirely.

China's two biggest Internet portals, Sina and Sohu, did the same.

Websites are mostly privately run and generally have more freedom than the traditional media in China.

But they are also targeted by government crackdowns and are forced to censor information on a range of sensitive issues, such as Tibet, Taiwan and news critical of the communist leadership.

Nevertheless, bloggers often find ways to post dissenting viewpoints, and Chinese web users again determinedly sought to beat the censors over the Obama speech.

On one major Internet portal, NetEase, a user posted their own translation of the cut parts in Chinese and English, while bloggers voiced their outrage.

One unnamed NetEase user from the eastern city of Qingdao wrote: "Why did domestic media produce a castrated version to fool people! Why can't we see a real world now!"

Censorship controls are tightest on Chinese language media, and material in English and other languages is sometimes given more leeway.

That appeared to be the case on Wednesday when English versions of the speech appeared in some Chinese media intact.

The state-run, English language China Daily, which is aimed mainly at a foreign audience, concluded its front-page story with the dissent quote. It also ran the full English text of the speech on its website.

The interruptions to the live broadcast and edited translations indicated China's propaganda officials carefully monitored the speech, said Xiao Qiang, director of the China Internet Project at the University of California.

The omissions were not necessarily due to concerns about the ideological differences, but rather how ordinary Chinese might respond to Obama's words, Xiao told AFP.

"Propaganda filtering is one thing, but there are certain concepts, phrases or lines that ring true among the Chinese people and that is what the Chinese propaganda people really want to filter out," he said.

"It's not about perspective, it's about what resonates among the Chinese people and will make people say 'That's true'."

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