'Warnings' for China celebrities over censorship row

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese authorities handed warnings to several celebrities who voiced support for a newspaper at the centre of a censorship battle online, newspaper reports and social media posts said on Friday.

Taiwanese singer Annie Yi, who works in mainland China, said on her social media account that she had been invited to "drink tea" with authorities, a common euphemism for being cautioned by authorities, the South China Morning post reported.

The warning came after Yi - who has more than six million followers on Sina Weibo, a Chinese website similar to Twitter - expressed support for Southern Weekly, a newspaper at the centre of protests over government censorship this week.

Other Chinese celebrities, including the former head of Google China, Lee Kai-Fu and property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, also said they received invitations to "drink tea", after posting messages in support of the paper, according to online posts.

The two men have a combined 38 million followers on the site, which had more than 400 million registered users last year.

Chinese activists have previously said that invitations to "drink tea" are extended by state security police, who use such meetings as warnings not to engage in anti-government activities.

Several Chinese celebrities posted messages in support of the Southern Weekly this week, after journalists at the paper protested government censors' replacement of a pro-reform editorial.

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".

Southern Weekly was published as scheduled on Thursday, after reports that newspaper staff had struck a deal with authorities that the paper would not be censored before publication.