China turns off entertainment for day of mourning

Films, gaming and shows pre-empted for second time in 2010

BEIJING -- Movie theaters, entertainment television programming and online video games were shut down across China on Sunday by central government edict in remembrance of the more than 1,200 people killed in recent massive mudslides in the west of the country.
Leading movie theater chain Wanda Cinemas’ flagship multiplex in downtown Beijing had a simple sign posted on its closed glass doors, which kept several would-be moviegoers from seeing the scheduled late matinee of “Aftershock,” the latest release from Huayi Brothers Media and China’s highest-grossing homemade film of all time.
Imported cable TV entertainment programming from the likes of MTV and AXN was replaced on televisions at luxury hotels such as the St. Regis, also downtown, with a simple message saying that from midnight Saturday through midnight Sunday, all entertainment activities would cease.
Although MTV has landing rights in Guangdong Province, these channels’ landing rights otherwise are limited mostly to luxury hotels and diplomatic residence compounds. On Sunday, they were dark from border to border, leaving advertisers in the lurch.
Apart from “Aftershock,” also affected at the cinemas was “Disney High School Musical China,” the Mandarin language version of the Walt Disney Company’s lucrative global franchise.
By late Saturday, the mudslide that hit Zhouqu county in the Gannan Tibetan autonomous prefecture of southern Gansu province, in the western part of China, on Aug. 8, had killed 1,239 people and 505 people were still missing, state media reported.
The last major nationwide blackout of entertainment across the board, affecting both domestic and imported content, was observed in China after an earthquake in Yushu, in northern Qinghai province, in late April. The precedent for these days of mourning following natural disasters was the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008, when movie theaters were shut for three days.
China, which now has just over 4,500 movie screens, is home to the fastest growing gross revenue boxoffice market in the world, up 86% in the first half of 2010 alone.  China’s television and online audience are both the largest in the world, respectively.