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China Nudges Accused Video Pirates Down the Plank, Stirring Frustration Over Censorship

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An effort by police to shut down a pipeline for pirated content has resurrected debate around censorship in China, opening a window into the anxieties felt by many Chinese as the country grows more inward-looking under leader Xi Jinping.

For several months, authorities in Shanghai have been investigating members of Renren Yingshi, a sprawling network of translators that provides uncensored foreign TV shows and movies to millions of Chinese under the guise of education, over suspected copyright violations.

The probe attracted little notice until earlier this month, when Shanghai police issued a notice revealing the detentions of more than a dozen people as part of the investigation. The announcement set off an outpouring of anguished messages from supporters online, including on Weibo, a popular Twitter -like platform, where the hashtag “Renren Yingshi investigated for pirated videos” attracted 800 million views in less than 24 hours.

“Salute to all those who have helped us open the door to the world in all eras,” Yan Feng, a literature professor at Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University, wrote in a Weibo post to his more than 5 million followers.

“How about giving us a legal and uncensored avenue instead?” asked another user, whose comment received more than 23,600 likes.

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