Mourning in China, from dawn to dusk


China eliminated all entertainment from television Monday to start three days of national mourning for victims of the May 12 earthquake that has claimed the lives of 30,000 people and counting.

China's broadcasters — serving the world's largest TV audience — switched to news from China Central Television, repeating montages of the Chinese red flag being lowered to half-staff mixed with footage of victims, damage, vigils and rescuers.

China's cabinet decreed Sunday that "public recreational activities will be stopped" through Wednesday to honor the dead in South China's Sichuan Province, a number that officials said could hit 50,000.

At 2:28 p.m. local time — a week after the quake hit — Chinese president Hu Jintao was shown on CCTV bowing his head during a tribute in the central government compound in Beijing.

Movie theaters and karaoke parlors closed their doors. Online gaming sites stopped operations, and video-sharing sites showed only earthquake-related footage on their home pages. Newspapers used only black ink on their front pages, avoiding the red often used.

The round-the-clock coverage and televised mourning is the first in China for anybody other than a national leader.

"It shows how seriously the government is concerned," retired English teacher Zhang Xiaohui said from Nanjing. "I like to get as much latest information as possible from our own national or local media rather than having to browse other overseas Web sites."

American China expert Orville Schell, former dean of the journalism school at the University of California at Berkeley, said Beijing's management of the media to guide relief efforts could offer "an extremely important cleansing for the whole nation" as it readies for the Summer Olympics in August.

"This is one of those rare occasions when we are all Chinese," Schell said from New York.