By EDWARD WONG and JONATHAN ANSFIELD
Published: January 21, 2009
BEIJING — President Obama’s 18-minute inauguration speech on Tuesday was generally lauded by Americans for its candor and conviction. But the Chinese Communist Party apparently thought the new American president’s gilded words were a little too direct.
China Central Television, or CCTV, the main state-run network, broadcast the speech live until the moment President Obama mentioned “communism” in a line about the defeat of ideologies considered anathema to Americans. After the off-screen translator said “communism” in Chinese, the audio faded out even as Mr. Obama’s lips continued to move.
CCTV then showed an anchor asking an analyst about the economic challenges that President Obama’s faces. The analyst was clearly caught off guard by the sudden question.
The offending line in the president’s speech was this: “Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.”
Later, the president went on to say: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
Chinese translations of the speech published Wednesday by state-run news organizations here and on prominent Web portals omitted that line and the word “communism” in the earlier line. The government, however, has allowed the full English text of the speech to be published.Besides quashing something that they might consider a slight against China, censors had a possible second motive in excising the speech — to guard against the possibility of popular anti-American sentiment resulting from it, which could in turn complicate the Chinese government’s policy toward the new administration.
But the act of censorship might actually have drawn more attention to the speech.
Word of the censorship circulated rapidly online, and Chinese Internet users vented their displeasure. “This rubbish translation is edited at points,” groused one post attached to the translation on Sina.com, a popular Web portal. The post characterized the translation with an expletive.
Another user took offense at the speech itself rather than the act of censorship. The user posted a comment vowing to “defeat American imperialism.”
Some Internet users were furious that President Obama lumped communism with the clearly reviled ideology of fascism.
Others took a more playful tack, writing spoofs that not only mocked the speech itself, but also conditions in China.
Perhaps the most popular riff was “Spring Festival Migrant Worker,” which has as its inspiration the epic plight of itinerant laborers as they try to secure train tickets home for the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins Monday. Tickets have been so hard to come by that President Hu Jintao had to give an order last week to railway stations to ensure that all tickets are fairly sold.
Parts of the spoof mirror Mr. Obama’s speech, but there is a notable change to the pledge at the outset.
“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real,” went the Chinese version. “They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, they will be met. Ultimately, we’ll make it home for sure.”