BEIJING (AP) — Television audiences across China watched an anarchist antihero rebel against a totalitarian government and persuade the people to rule themselves. Soon the Internet was crackling with quotes of "V for Vendetta's" famous line: "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."
The airing of the movie Friday night on China Central Television stunned viewers and raised hopes that China is loosening censorship.
"V for Vendetta" never appeared in Chinese theaters, but it is unclear whether it was ever banned. An article on the Communist Party's People's Daily website says it was previously prohibited from broadcast, but the spokesman for the agency that approves movies said he was not aware of any ban.
Some commentators and bloggers think the broadcast could be CCTV producers pushing the envelope of censorship, or another sign that the ruling Communist Party's newly installed leader, Xi Jinping, is serious about reform.
"Oh God, CCTV unexpectedly put out 'V for Vendetta.' I had always believed that film was banned in China!" media commentator Shen Chen wrote on the popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo service, where he has over 350,000 followers.
Zhang Ming, a supervisor at a real estate company, asked on Weibo: "For the first time CCTV-6 aired 'V for Vendetta,' what to think, is the reform being deepened?"
The 2005 movie, based on a comic book, is set in an imagined future Britain with a fascist government. The protagonist wears a mask of Guy Fawkes, the 17th-century English rebel who tried to blow up Parliament. The mask has become a revolutionary symbol for young protesters in mostly Western countries, and it also has a cult-like status in China as pirated DVDs are widely available. Some people have used the image of the mask as their profile pictures on Chinese social media sites.