These blogger-activists are far from revolutionary. Like the incoming leaders, many are children of Communist Party officials. They are patriots, but they want the nation’s institutions to work better and on behalf of the people. They take on corrupt corporations as much as they do the government. They are just as concerned about kidnapped children and AIDS victims as they are about voting rights and free elections.
The best known among them, including scholar Yu Jianrong, whose microblog tries to connect begging street children with their parents, have more than a million followers. And they must contend with ever-changing censorship rules. Many popular microbloggers have had their accounts suspended or terminated in a government crackdown this year on Internet “rumors,” after aggressive reporting on the case of ousted Politburo member Bo Xilai.
The bloggers risk death threats and harassment to raise civic awareness, bring powerful people to book and give a voice to the voiceless.
“If I speak in a high-profile way, it’s because I love this country,” said Wang Xiaoshan, 45, a well-known journalist and active microblogger who has led a boycott campaign against a large dairy company called Mengniu, which is at the center of several recent food-safety scandals.
Wang said that he worries about his safety and that he recently spent a week in Hong Kong and three days in Macau because he was informed of a credible threat to silence him. His biggest fear, he said, is being arrested and sent to Inner Mongolia, where Mengniu is located. “I know how this country works,” he said. “I’m not afraid of jail. I’m afraid of torture.”
But he returned to China and to his writing. “I’ve always wanted to be a hero, ever since I was a child,” Wang said. “I think I’m a hero now.”
Last year, Wu Heng, a graduate student in historical geography at Fudan University in Shanghai, became incensed when he learned that some of the lunches he bought just off campus — meals that he thought contained beef — actually consisted of pork that had been treated with a harmful additive to give it the color of beef.
“I was shocked when I realized the food-safety issue was so close to my life,” Wu, 27, said, speaking via his laptop in a university coffee shop. “I decided I should do something.”
Wu started a Web site last year, www.zccw.info, which goes by the Chinese initials for its English name, “Throw It Out the Window.” The phrase comes from that apocryphal moment when President Theodore Roosevelt supposedly became so disgusted after reading about conditions in Chicago meatpacking plants that he threw his breakfast sausage out a White House window.