China's state-run television network shocked viewers by broadcasting "V for Vendetta", an anarchist-themed film showing an uprising against an authoritarian government.

Chinese Internet users expressed surprise after watching the broadcast, circulating subversive lines from the movie including: "The people should not be afraid of the government, the government should be afraid of the people."

The film was screened in prime time on CCTV 6 -- the state broadcaster's movie channel. But its title was translated as "V Special Forces", rather than the more lurid "V the Revenge Killing Squad" previously used in China.

"Am I dreaming?" one user of Sina Weibo -- a website similar to Twitter -- wrote after seeing the broadcast, joining thousands of others who posted similar messages.

The film was once banned in mainland China, the state-run China Youth Daily reported, and was not shown in Chinese cinemas.

Web users wondered if the broadcast indicated a relaxation of censorship -- though most were sceptical that it indicated any major change in policy.

"It's not easy for a film with this kind of content to be broadcast on CCTV, I'm not sure if it's a signal, I'll wait and see," one Sina Weibo user wrote.

CCTV did not immediately respond to requests for comment from AFP on Friday.

The film, starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman, is set in a dystopian version of Britain, and portrays a bold, charismatic freedom fighter known as "V", who ignites a revolution against the totalitarian regime.

The lead character's black and white mask has become a symbol for anti-authoritarian activists across the world, with online hacking group Anonymous choosing it as their symbol.

Anonymous claimed to be behind an an attack on Chinese government website in April, when government home pages were replaced with messages criticising China for controlling Internet access.