Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

Chinese Fighting Back

Posted by w_thames_the_d on April 15, 2010

One cold but sunny autumn day, a young white-collar worker in Shanghai received an anxious phone call from his family. The authorities were requisitioning their farmland for development.

Wang Shuai believed the scheme was illegal, but officials refused to discuss it. He tried journalists, but they thought his story both too common and too sensitive. That was when he turned to the internet.

“It was the choice of having no choice,” he said. “But I had read complaints about injustices on the net before and I knew some cases had worked out. There were reports like officials who used public money for holidays; when they appeared, the nation began investigating.”

The authorities had launched an “anti-drought initiative” which included chopping down fruit trees – conveniently allowing them to slash compensation to families turfed off the land.

“Great tactics for fighting drought in Ningbao village!” Wang headlined his post. Underneath, he added pictures of the tree stumps.

It would indeed grab attention; but not quite as he had expected. Wang’s story exemplifies the growing power of the internet in China: the airing of grievances; the ability to reach a wider audience; the use of satire to discuss serious topics.

While China has the world’s most sophisticated internet censorship system, it also has almost 400 million internet users – at least some of whom are challenging those restraints with increasing boldness. Controls mean that almost everyone self-censors to some degree. But some have used the variations and gaps in the system to stake out spaces where they can find or share viewpoints that are not officially sanctioned.

In fact, the internet is arguably more important than in other countries since the mainstream media is still more firmly controlled. The Chinese have even invented a word – “wangmin” or “netizen” – that captures this sense of the internet as a space for social and political discussion.

From the guardian.co.uk

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