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In China, Blogs Are Revolutionary Tool of Opinion


There's been an explosion of internet use in China. It's estimated that 111 million Chinese are online, and along with all the other internet phenomena, blogs have become big. One survey says that more than half of all urban office workers in China write blogs. All that personal expression has some observers wondering if blogs have the power to change the country. Louisa Lim is our new Shanghai correspondent. And she spoke with some of the people behind what's called The Great Firewall of China.

JASMINE GU: This is my blog. I call it A Single's Diary, because I'm single. It's all about me, myself, my life.

LOUISA LIM: Jasmine Gu writes her internet diary after midnight as she listens to popular love songs. According to surveys, she's China's typical blogger: educated, female, a city dweller in her 20s. She's been blogging for a year and has scored more than 10,000 hits. One of the me generation, she's a spoiled only child. She admits she's self-obsessed. So her blog is the perfect medium to endlessly discuss her favorite topic, herself.

GU: I think most bloggers, the majority of bloggers in China are just like me. We only care about ourselves. We don't care too much about politics, or we don't really care about who will rule the country, who will stay in power as long as we have a cozy life. I don't think a blogger is the way to change China. It's just a tool for us, one generation children, to express ourselves.

JEREMY GOLDCORN: This is (unintelligible) who is a woman in Shanghai who says she's a party member and then has these short clips of herself. You never see her face, but her dancing in a sexy way and then she lights her fire...

LIM: Jeremy Goldcorn navigating China's bloggersphere. He's a long-term Beijing resident who blogs about the bloggers. Despite the apparent frivolity of much of what's online, there's an explosion of opinion in cyberspace. Some estimate China now has 30 million bloggers. And Jeremy Goldcorn believes they are having a political impact.

GOLDCORN: It's got to a point now where Chinese bloggers who are not anonymous, are openly being sarcastic about government moves. The acceleration of their accessibility of information and the ease with which people can publish their thoughts and their opinions is revolutionary.

LIM: Revolutionary perhaps, but that doesn't mean the government's grip on power is seriously challenged. Nonetheless, it's more difficult for the authorities to cover up bad news as the task of policing the internet is nigh on impossible. According to Jeremy Goldcorn the internet and bloggers are becoming China's Fourth Estate.

GOLDCORN: They are writing about things that the mainstream press won't write about, rural unrest, for example. Because of bloggers and journalists posting their notes on the internet, the central government is a lot more informed about, for example, corruption in provincial cities. In that sense I believe the internet and bloggers and people who post on bulletin boards are increasingly going to serve as a kind of a check and a balance against the power both of local governments, but even of central governments.

LIM: So the boundaries are slowly being pushed forward. But for those doing the pushing it's a frustrating and sometimes dangerous task. The international press group Reporters Without Borders says 49 cyber dissidents are imprisoned in Chinese jails. Michael Anti is probably the country's most famous blogger. He knows he's treading a difficult path.

MICHAEL ANTI: Censorship and self-censorship are the daily life of Chinese people. I, myself, is a journalist, so I know the bottom line and everyday when I write...

LIM: He writes a bold political blog, and he thought he knew where the lines were, but he was wrong. Last December he urged readers to take action in support of striking journalists whose editor had been dismissed. This act caused Microsoft Spaces to delete his blogs. It said it was complying with Chinese law.

ANTI: I chose the Microsoft Spaces as my blog service. I think the Microsoft is an American company, maybe American company can give me more free space to express. But now American company totally removed my blog without any warning so it made me very angry.

LIM: With even Western companies bowing to China's senses, he believes the situation is deteriorating, but Michael Anti says he has no choice but to keep going.

ANTI: We have no other way to express ourselves. We have a very strong feeling to speak out, except to the blog we have no way. The media is controlled, public forum is controlled. We have only blogs.

LIM: Blogging for freedom as Michael Anti puts it. His mission is to be part of the generation that brings democracy and freedom to China. Most Chinese bloggers like Jasmine Gu have less lofty goals, but in a way they too are blogging for freedom. The freedom to be frivolous, to be selfish, or just to control their own media. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

BLOCK: Tomorrow we hear about an internet phenomenon so new it goes largely uncensored, podcasting in China. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Morning EditionAll Things Considered
Beijing Correspondent Louisa Lim is currently attending the University of Michigan as a Knight-Wallace Fellow. She will return to her regular role in 2014.