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Nothing can stop the empty chair, one Net user writes as officials race to remove offending posts

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 December, 2010, 12:00am

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Photos of an empty chair posted online were circulated by mainland internet users yesterday to pay tribute to jailed human rights activist Liu Xiaobo before his Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.

It started when two pictures of an empty chair, symbolising Liu's inability to attend the award ceremony, were posted on Twitter and Sina's Weibo microblog yesterday. They featured a red banner with Chinese characters congratulating Liu on his award, hung outside a building thought to be at a university in Changsha , Hunan . One Weibo user said the picture was deleted by the administrator less than 30 seconds after he posted it.

Some mainland internet users launched a campaign calling for pictures of empty chairs to be posted. At least four pictures were posted by different Twitter users in less than 10 minutes.

The 'empty chair' quickly became a symbol of defiance and support of Liu among internet users. One poster wrote: 'Nothing can stop the empty chair.' Another said: 'Liu Xiaobo today has become a true 'chairman'.'

The authorities reacted swiftly, censoring the phrase 'empty chair' in Chinese characters, English and pinyin on social networks and microblog services run by operators including Sina, Netease, Fanfou and Renren. A picture of an empty chair posted on a Sina microblog by a China Central Television host was quickly censored. Sina's platform suspended its keyword search yesterday to stop people from searching for posts containing sensitive words.

The internet is tightly controlled on the mainland, with what is known as the Great Firewall of China blocking access to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Flickr for 420 million internet users. Some found ways to circumvent it and made preparations to watch online a live broadcast of the ceremony. A few Twitter users present in Oslo uploaded text and pictures throughout the event.

Many internet users in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and even Hong Kong said they would meet for dinner to celebrate the occasion.

Some posted on Tencent and other microblog platforms a Tang dynasty poem expressing how much they missed their brother on the day of celebration.