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Chinese government limits online entertainment

Websites offline during earthquake mourning

The Chinese government has limited access to online entertainment during a three-day period of national mourning which starts today, in recognition of the victims of the recent earthquake.

The website of the State Council, China's Cabinet, published the declaration for observation (in Chinese) of the mourning period yesterday: "To express the deep grief of all of country's nationalities for the Wenchuan earthquake victims, the State Council decided that May 19 to 21 will be a period of national mourning. During that time, national and foreign institutions will fly flags at half-mast, public recreational activities will be stopped, and the Foreign Ministry and China's embassies and consulates will set up condolence books.

"At 2:28pm (local Beijing time) on May 19, people across the country will observe silence for three minutes, while cars, trains, ships, and air defense alarms will sound."

Major portals Sina.com and Sohu.com limited their homepage offerings to news content. Sohu adopted an all-black font, with most of the links on the top half of the page relating to earthquake news. Video sites Youku.com and Tudou.com both offered only quake-related material on their home pages, but other videos, such as music or amateur clips, could be accessed on both sites using search functions.

Game site The9, which is the China distributor for the exceptionally popular "World of Warcraft" MMPORG (Massively MultiPlayer Online Role-Playing Game), offered no links to any of its games. Instead, it offered information on how to donate to relief efforts. Players could still access their accounts for top-up payments and to view account information.

Representatives from the various companies did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

"The national outpouring of sympathy and grief is very real. I believe that most people are not treating the suspension as a crackdown of a police state but as an understandable reaction to a national tragedy," said Jeremy Goldkorn, editor of Danwei, a Beijing-based media site, by email. "Americans can get a sense of the mood here now by recalling the weeks after 9-11, when many people felt that it was inappropriate to hold parties, tell jokes or have fun," he said.

China is also suspending the Olympic torch relay for the three days of mourning. The government is asking people to observe three minutes of silence beginning at 2:28 p.m. local Beijing time, the time when the earthquake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, occurred on May 12. By 2:00 p.m. Sunday, the official death toll stood at 32,476, with hundreds of thousands more injured.

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