Mainland bloggers and celebrities along with foreign media campaigners threw their support behind journalists at a newspaper enmeshed in a censorship row, after a rare protest for press freedom.
The widespread backing came after hundreds demonstrated at the Guangzhou headquarters of the popular liberal newspaper Southern Weekly, after an article urging greater respect of constitutional rights was censored by an official.
Wang Keqin, an investigative reporter on another newspaper, yesterday posted on the Twitter-like weibo service: "A black hand closes heavy, black curtain, blocking brightness and fresh air as there is no weekend any more in the south."
The paper is also known as Southern Weekend.
Yao Chen, an actress who has 32 million followers on her weibo account, earlier posted the paper's logo and quoted Russian dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: "One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world".
Fellow actor Chen Kun, who has 27 million followers, replied: "I am not that deep, and don't play with words. I support the friends at Southern Weekly."
The row erupted after censors blocked a New Year message in the paper, calling for the realisation of a "dream of constitutionalism in China" to protect citizens' rights, and replaced it with a weaker article, according to journalists.
Over the weekend, a letter signed by scores of mainland academics called for the immediate removal of provincial propaganda official Tuo Zhen and for more press freedom.
But a commentary in the English-language Global Times, which is close to the ruling party, said authorities would not allow radical changes. "The country is unlikely to have the 'absolutely free media' that is dreamed of by those activists," it said.
Web portals carrying the Chinese language version of the article posted disclaimers in an apparent effort to distance themselves from it.