Free voices on Internet new path to democracy in China
2009/01/02

by Xinhua writer Wang Aihua

BEIJING, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- Chinese netizens have made their voices heard more loudly and their presence better recognized in headline news events over the past year.

When the Beijing Olympic torch relay overseas was disrupted in April, almost all the Chinese msn messenger users posted "I love China" beside their names, a move that looked "overwhelming" to Kevin, a French man who was living in Shanghai at the time.

As to domestic affairs, netizens did not sit aloof. After the dairy scandal emerged in September, netizens' strong criticisms finally led to the resignation of Li Changjiang, then director of the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

Yan Jirong, professor at Peking University's School of Government, said this incident showed the government was paying attention to public voices on the Internet.

A report released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on Dec. 2 showed about 206 million Chinese use the Internet as their main source of news.

According to the China Internet Network Information Center, under-30s are the majority of online news readers, accounting for about 69 percent of total Internet users.

On June 20, Hu visited the Qiangguo Forum, which is affiliated to people.com.cn, and chatted with netizens. Hu's visit drew so many clicks that it almost crashed the site.

Premier Wen said frankly at a press conference on March 18 that he had been using the Internet to listen to netizens' opinions and suggestions during the annual sessions of the National People's Congress, the top legislature, and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the top advisory body.

Fans of the two leaders started to post suggestions and support to the two leaders at beginning of July on a bulletin board of the people.com.cn, a website of the People's Daily.

It was prompted by affection for Hu and Wen after seeing how they dealt with the May 12 earthquake, the fans said in their postings.

After the magnitude-8.0 earthquake struck the southwestern Sichuan Province and the neighboring provinces on May 12, the two officials paid repeated visits to the devastated areas and impressed netizens with moving behavior and words.

Some scholars said bluntly that the Internet had indeed built a direct link between the grassroots and the central power.

Local officials, on the other hand, are going a step further to write blogs and hold debates with netizens on hot issues.

Li Ou, vice mayor of Siping in the northeastern Jilin Province, has been hailed by netizens as being the most active mayor who uses his real name to debate with netizens on social affairs.

Li's blog was selected as one of the "top 10 blogs of 2008" in a poll by the People's Daily based on the votes from millions of netizens.

Another local official, Liao Xinbo, deputy director of the Department of Public Health of the southern Guangdong Province, was also on the list. His blog was picked for pointing out the keyto China's new medical reform plan which is likely to be issued in January, reported the People's Daily.

Liao wrote on Dec. 25 that China should learn from other countries, such as Cuba, in drafting the long-delayed medical reform plan.

"The government is seeking new ways for the public to voice opinions," said Yan.

A survey taken by the China Youth Daily's poll center showed about 72 percent of those responding hoped the Internet would be anew path to democracy. More than half of those surveyed said the exchanges on the Internet helped to bring the government closer to the public.

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