Internet censors hear a discordant note in Hu Jintao's singalong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 March, 2011, 12:00am

What could President Hu Jintao have possibly done wrong for an old clip of him in a singalong to be suddenly stripped from websites by the mainland's voracious internet censors. Had a gaffe escaped the censors for five years?

It turns out his innocent rendition of the much-loved folk song What a Beautiful Jasmine Flower has suddenly developed dark undertones amid the current strife in the Middle East.

The clip appears to have fallen victim to the widespread internet clamp on anything related to the 'jasmine' protests, disappearing from the popular video-sharing sites Youku and Tudou.

The video - which was still available on YouTube last night - shows Hu exchanging pleasantries with a group of Kenyan Chinese-learners when he visited a Confucius Institute in Nairobi on a five-nation African tour in 2006.

The group of mostly female students and teachers then join in with the chorus of the song as a student choir performs for Hu. An English-language press release issued by the foreign ministry at the time, which includes references to the singalong, remained on the ministry's website yesterday.

The pro-democracy 'jasmine rallies' movement - styled after Tunisia's 'jasmine revolution', which sparked unrest across North Africa and the Middle East last month - has called on mainlanders to take to the streets to call for an end to one-party rule.

Although minor rallies have been reported in a number of mainland cities on the past two Sundays, it is impossible to gauge the size of the protests due to the demonstrators deliberately remaining inconspicuous to avoid being targeted by authorities.

The movement has resulted in a massive crackdown, with hundreds of police on the streets of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and other cities on Sunday to suppress dissent. Rights groups say more than 100 activists and lawyers have been detained recently.

The crackdown also appears to have prompted a tightening of internet censorship. Entering the Chinese for 'jasmine' in a Google search produced an error message on mainland computers yesterday, as did 'Wangfujing', site of the Beijing rally.