Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Free microblogs threaten communist party rule in China

Opposition against the rule of the Communist Party in China is growing thanks to new social media, particularly microblogging, the Wall Street Journal reports:

Indications are emerging that dissenting voices are gaining traction in the public square. For instance, ordinary Chinese are running for election in local legislative bodies that are usually rubber-stamp bodies filled with reliable worthies chosen by the Party.

A similar trend briefly emerged in the early 2000s, but the authorities were largely able to intimidate or co-opt the challengers. This time crude measures are only encouraging more candidates to emerge. As in the Middle East, young, white-collar urbanites angry about corruption, inflation and poor governance are less cowed by threats.

Another difference is that the candidates are gaining such a large following that detaining them risks causing a wider societal backlash. The rise of social media is a contributing factor. When the major Web portals sprang to prominence a decade ago, authorities hired tens of thousands of censors and commenters to control the debate, with some success.
Now microblogging sites such as Sina Weibo are further speeding up communication, allowing celebrity "thought leaders" to broadcast their ideas to tens of millions before the censors can respond. As of March last year, Sina's service had only five million users. In the first quarter of 2011, the number passed 140 million and is still climbing.
The government has blocked Western sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and the Chinese equivalents maintain in-house censorship operations that obey government orders on what must be taken down. But the instantaneous nature of microblogging combined with user ingenuity in substituting alternative words for blocked phrases makes it more difficult to control.

One of the first independent candidates was Liu Ping, a laid-off worker who announced her candidacy in April. Jiangxi province officials harassed her and refused to allow her to run. That inspired others around the country, including a popular blogger with three million Weibo followers, to throw their hats into the ring.

Read the entire WSJ article here

The Economist also has an interesting article on the same theme:

Now, despite a sweeping crackdown on dissent this year involving the arrest of dozens of activists, the party is finding it harder to impose silence. A surge in online social networking has enabled citizens to connect instantly with vast numbers of like-minded people. Intellectuals and journalists with high profiles online are among those who have declared their candidacies. Li Chengpeng, an author and social critic in Sichuan province, has more than 3m followers of his Sina Weibo account. In a message posted on June 15th Mr Li wrote that a policeman had said he would vote for him, with many fellow officers wanting to follow suit.
The emergence of these candidates has coincided with a spate of local disturbances in different parts of the country. They make the party, which is preparing to celebrate its 90th birthday on July 1st, all the more anxious. In Zengcheng, a town in Guangdong province that manufactures jeans, thousands of police appear to have quelled days of rioting which broke out on June 10th after an altercation between security guards and a migrant street vendor. This came after rioting in Lichuan in Hubei province over the death in police custody of a local legislator and anti-corruption campaigner. In late May a man with grievances against the government in Fuzhou, Jiangxi province, blew up himself and two others, prompting an outpouring of sympathy on the internet. Xu Chunliu, a self-proclaimed candidate in Beijing, who has 12,000-plus Sina Weibo followers, says such incidents have encouraged some to venture into politics. Better, he says, to battle it out in parliament than on the streets

Read the entire Economist article here


The Chinese government is trying to counteract the dissenting microbloggers by introducing its own microblogs, with the Foreign Ministry leading the way, reports the official news agency Xinhua. However, even if these government blogs may get some attention, they will not be able to compete against microblogs offering real information, instead of government propaganda. The success of the first free social media, may very well be a sign of the beginning of the end of one party rule in China.

No comments: