image: Chinese blogger conference. Wangjianshuo’s blog
Competing public opinions, unheard of 10 years ago, are becoming familiar in China these days as the world’s biggest censor struggles to cope with the explosive growth of the internet.
With 200,000 new netizens every day, China’s online population is on the brink of overtaking the United States as the biggest in the world. China is adding 6 million new users a month – more than 10 times the pace of US growth.
The proliferation of mobile phones, internet messaging services and bulletin boards has been cited as a major factor in recent middle-class street protests. The biggest last year saw a demonstration of thousands in Xiamen, Fujian province, against plans for a chemical factory. Mindful of public opinion, the authorities have backed down.
Forestry officials in Shaanxi faced a furious backlash after confirming new pictures of the endangered South China tiger were faked.
Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of the media blog Danwei.org, says the surge in users is changing China. “It is extremely significant that the internet is growing at this rate because it makes it easier for information to get out,” he says. “I believe Chinese society in general is opening up. The internet is a cause of that, but it is also an effect.”
”It won’t lead to revolution, but it will play a part in the evolution of public debate.”