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UPDATE 2-'They cut the VPN': Shanghai Oscars party for 'Nomadland' director hits snag

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By Emily Chow

SHANGHAI, April 26 (Reuters) - A livestream of the Academy Awards in Shanghai hosted by alumni of Oscar-winner Chloe Zhao's alma mater ran into China's Great Firewall, with the organiser saying access to his virtual private network (VPN) service was blocked for nearly two hours.

Beijing-born Zhao, whose critical 2013 comment on China resurfaced after her nomination, sparking backlash in the country, was named best director for "Nomadland" on Monday, making her the first Asian woman to win the category in the award's 93-year history.

The Recession-era tale about a community of van dwellers in America also won Oscars for best picture and best actress, for Frances McDormand.

About 30 people had gathered at a small bar on The Bund, a historic district in central Shanghai, as early as 8 a.m. local time (0000 GMT) to support Zhao and watch the awards live on YouTube.

But the screening, hosted by New York University alumni, didn't start until 10 a.m., when organiser Kevin Ke got his VPN service to work.

"They cut the VPN," Ke announced to the gathering. He also said his WeChat account was blocked after he wrote a post on Sunday praising Zhao.

The Cyberspace Administration of China did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Many Western apps such as YouTube are banned in China, where the internet is tightly regulated and often censored of content that could undermine the ruling Communist Party. A VPN service is needed to bypass the so-called Great Firewall.

The awards show was not broadcast in China, where Zhao's success has been met with an awkward mix of pride and censorship, with searches on the Twitter-like Weibo generating few results on Monday.

Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, tweeted congratulations.

"She is an excellent director. As a Chinese born in Beijing striving in the US, the tense China-US ties may bring some troubles to her. Hopefully she will become more and more mature in handling those troubles," he said.

Last month, some Chinese netizens said Zhao had insulted China and questioned her nationality, citing a 2013 interview when she was quoted as saying, "It goes back to when I was a teenager in China, being in a place where there are lies everywhere."

'INHERENTLY GOOD'

In her Oscar acceptance speech, Zhao said she believed people were inherently good at birth, citing a phrase in Chinese that she said is from a classic poem.

"Even though sometimes they might seem like the opposite is true, but I have always found goodness in the people I met everywhere I went in the world," she said.

Some in China were unmoved by her speech.

"For one who used to say 'there're lies everywhere in China', how could you now be in a position to say 'hold on to the goodness'," one netizen wrote.

Information on "Nomadland" was scrubbed from Chinese ticketing platforms, film review websites and social media, the Global Times reported in March.

The tabloid also reported in April that the movie's release, slated for April 23 in mainland China, had been suspended.

At the Shanghai event, there was cheering for Zhao.

"Zhao's win doesn't just represent NYU, she represents the Chinese people," said New York University music business student Eric Mao. (Reporting by Emily Chow; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Karishma Singh, Neil Fullick and Tony Munroe)

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