Chinese cinemas, TV go dark in mourning

Three-day mourning period restricts entertainment

HONG KONG -- Entertainment content went off the air and movie theaters and karaoke parlors closed their doors across China on Monday for the start of a three-day period of national mourning.

The State Council, China's cabinet, issued a declaration Sunday stating, "public recreational activities will be stopped" to honor the more than 30,000 people killed in a massive earthquake that shook South China's Sichuan Province on May 12.

On Monday morning, all of China's television stations switched to one of three news feeds, produced by state broadcaster China Central Television. The only interruptions showed montages of victims, damage, vigils and rescue efforts. The death toll is expected to rise to as high as 50,000 from the worst quake in China in 32 years.

Chinese president Hu Jintao and other top Communist Party leaders -- in dark suits each with a white flower in his lapel -- were shown on CCTV bowing their heads at a tribute in the central government compound of Zhongnanhai in Beijing, 960 miles from the quake's
epicenter.

Zhang Xiaohui, 51, a retired English teacher from Nanjing, welcomed round-the-clock coverage and the decreed, unified mourning, the first in modern China for anything other than the death of a national leader.

"It shows how seriously the government is concerned about the earthquake," Zhang said. " I like to get as much latest information as possible from our own national or local media, rather than having to browse other overseas websites in Chinese. We need to know what our government is doing by letting the government tell us directly."

Foreign non-news satellite channels including HBO Asia appeared to be blocked as of Monday morning in Beijing. HBO Asia representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

All cinemas, including mobile film projection units used in rural China, were barred from screening films through Wednesday, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television announced in a statement Monday. Tickets already sold have to be refunded, a SARFT spokeswoman said.

Web sites and gaming operators, such as NASDAQ-listed Shanda Interactive, also closed down. The9 offered links to earthquake news and sites for donations. Top video sites Youku.com and Tudou.com offered only earthquake-related video on their homepages.

In Hong Kong, TV stations suspended normal programming Monday afternoon. Two TVB channels, Jade and HD Jade, broadcast footage of rescue efforts during a three-minute silence begun at 2:28 p.m. local time -- exactly a week after the quake.

On Saturday, the "Sichuan Earthquake Fundraising Show" on TVB raised HK$220 million ($28.3 million) in donations, including HK$100 million donated by TVB founder Sir Run Run Shaw to rebuild schools in Sichuan province.

Donations to the overall relief fund have totaled 10.8 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) so far, and on Sunday night, a CCTV telethon raised 1.5 billion yuan ($215 million), the government news agency Xinhua said.

In Hong Kong, six ATV channels, including terrestrial channels Home and World, and four digital channels, suspended normal programming to transmit the live broadcast of the CCTV special "Sichuan Earthquake – Nation in Silent Mourning."

Ho Ting Kwan, ATV's chief operating officer and director, said ATV would remove all commercials from all seven of its channels for three days, replacing them with spots calling for aid and donations.

Cable TV also showed the CCTV special on its news channels. Programming on i-Cable Entertainment News substituted a three-minute rescue montage instead of normal news broadcast. The press launch of the network's Sports Channel program "Power Four: Olympics Adventure Team," scheduled for Monday, was canceled.

Local newspapers used only black ink on their front pages, avoiding use of the red ink often found in Chinese headlines.

Major Hong Kong attractions also observed the mourning with Hong Kong Disneyland and rival Ocean Park stopping rides. Disney canceled its evening fireworks display on Monday and the company said it had donated $1 million to rebuild damaged and destroyed schools.

The quake that struck Sichuan at 2:28 p.m. local time on May 12 measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. The official death toll Monday afternoon stood at 32,173. Over 200,000 are injured, and almost 30,000 still missing.

Alex Dai in Shanghai and the Associated Press and contributed to this report.
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