Microblogging in China: Unstoppable!?

Feb 3, 2012 by

Microblogging in China: Unstoppable!?

There is a special beauty to blogging. It unleashes a feeling almost akin to reverence. We live for exchange and communication, for feeling connected. Now maybe more than ever before. Each in our different ways, but still, I do believe it’s there in everyone. There is something indescribably thrilling about this mix of freedom of expression and responsibility for what you put out there at the same time. For those who want to write with a purpose, to leave their mark, to imprint an opinion on all the discussions circulating the universe, both virtual and real, blogging and social media are simply a gift. The excitement that one feels when something happens in the world that either really bugs you or makes you happy, and the knowledge that after an hour or so (or even less) at your computer the rest of the world can partake of your thoughts, that you could possibly influence change, well… I for one find it hard to give up. And even if I’m romanticizing here, I think the above is true.

You appreciate things like this, but being human, you get used to it once it’s there. You don’t really think about what it would be like if you just couldn’t do it. So it’s unimaginable that there might be something restricting your ability to blog on current events, that you can’t just sit down and post away, knowing that there’s a community out there possibly buzzing with the same chatter that you want to get out of your system. But cases like this do exist, with China being the prime example on everyone’s mind. Let’s take a quick overview on some of the major events and changes that have blown through the country with one of the most ancient histories in the world.

For the last 40 years or so China has been a largely market-orientated economy that has been increasingly seen by experts as playing a bigger and bigger role on the global economic stage. According to various summaries and export statistics from China, 2010 saw the country becoming the largest exporter in the world. Many economic changes took place over the years, though they were gradual at first. The banking system became more diversified, with the largest bank based on total assets now being the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. State enterprises became more independent, the private sector grew rapidly, and foreign trade and investment boomed. All this becomes clearly evident if you take a closer look at various statistics about China.

But despite all the positive changes and the exciting developments China is probably expecting for the years to come, there are still a number of challenges to tackle. Some of them, unfortunately, are provoked by the rapid and forceful economic changes themselves. To name a few of these challenges, the government is facing the problem of creating enough jobs for all the immigrants who come to China, battling corruption, taming the inflation rate and dealing with environmental damage caused by changes in such industries as agriculture or food production. Air and soil pollution continue to be a serious problem throughout the country. Population control is, of course, another long-standing issue in China. While serving a good purpose to keep things under control, China is facing a rapidly aging society and future problems about caring for senior citizens.

Another approaching change is  Xi Jinping taking over the Communist party leadership in October 2012. The Deutsche Welle, Germany’s leading international broadcaster, reported that not much is known about the new man. Experts are wondering what China will be like in the future and how this change will affect the country’s international relations. The media have mentioned previous incidents of Xi Jinping making a dubious impression during several foreign visits with his ambiguous statements. The Deutsche Welle further mentions a visit to Japan in 2009, where Xi Jinping insisted on seeing the Japanese Emperor on extremely short notice, which is against protocol. The incident received lots of negative press coverage in the Japanese media. Xi Jinping is expected to visit the US this coming Valentine’s Day. It will be interesting to hear about his trip.

So with all this happening, who wouldn’t feel like blogging, tweeting, facebooking or using whatever other quick means the Web offers of reporting on these major events? And who wouldn’t feel frustrated, to say the least, if one encountered blocks on the way to doing it? The power of the Internet is irresistible. As most of you know, the term “microbloggers” is used in China. And micro they may be, but they are proving to be very stubborn about accepting the government’s attempts to silence their virtual voices. According to CNN, China’s Communist party wanted in on the country’s social network site Sina Weibo, which is similar to Twitter and has some 250 million users. About 19,000 party officials tweet and post on Weibo, and the police has more than 5000 accounts on the website. Weibo is, of course, a major concern for the authorities, with its massive popularity being perfect grounds for the spreading of much-feared anti-party opinions and feeding social dissatisfaction with the political regime. All microblogs registered in Beijing also have to register with their real name with the police. China’s largest technology and IT firms are supporting this. But the blogging hasn’t stopped, and neither have attempts to still get important information out there, also using tricks and cunning to disguise “forbidden” subjects, but still make them recognizable for readers.

It’s admirable. It’s scary. And it’s kind of inspiring.

Image note: this image is released under the creative commons license (source: Flickr/ Dainis Matisons)

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