The mild-mannered Wu is no revolutionary. His father is a Communist Party official in their native Hubei province. He has an older brother who became a computer programmer and, like his father, joined the party. As the second child, Wu said, he enjoyed a lot more freedom. “Although my values are different from [those of] my parents, we can coexist peacefully,” he said.
Wu said his site tries not to make news or run afoul of the authorities, and he calls himself a “mild combatant” in the battle to change China. He admires Wang, for example, but opts for a less confrontational way.
“I don’t have so much time or effort to raise a protest flag,” Wu said. “But online, I can do this.”
Tracking expensive habits
Another active microblogger, a financially successful investor who uses the name Huaguoshan Zongshuji, or “Secretary General of the Flower and Fruit Mountain,” spoke on the condition of anonymity to prevent the powerful people he has angered from tracking him down.
Secretary General became popular last year, after he began examining officially published photos of high-ranking Communist Party officials and zeroing in on their expensive wristwatches. He then matched the watches to publicly available catalogues, to reveal how much officials were spending on luxury goods while supposedly living on a government salary.
The watch blog angered so many Communist officials that it was deleted, and Secretary General’s accounts were suspended. He began a new microblog, taking on an allegedly fraudulent nonprofit group claiming to represent global luxury-goods makers. Those exposés led to threats, and Secretary General began hiding out throughout China, eventually heading to Vietnam shortly after an interview in Beijing.
“Actually, I’m really scared,” the blogger, 33, said at a coffee shop . But will he give up microblogging? “You have two options — speak out or be silent,” he replied. “Freedom is quite important.”
Like Wu, Secretary General is also the son of a Communist Party member, a military doctor. But he said his father has become disillusioned and now gets more of his news from the Internet than state-run television. The blogger joined the party while in university but let his membership lapse.
‘The tools have changed’
The three bloggers are of different ages and occupy different worlds — a longtime journalist, a graduate student and an investor. But, like others in China’s active online community, they share a commitment to speak out.
China has more than 500 million Internet users, according to the government’s China Internet Network Information Center. There are also about 250 million users of the Twitter-like microblogging sites known collectively as weibo. The most popular of the microblogging sites, Sina Weibo, reported that the number of tweets on the site hit a record during the Chinese New Year, with 32,312 messages sent per second.
Microblogs exploded here because of their ability to convey a lot of information in a quick burst. Like with Twitter, there’s a 140-character limit. But in Chinese, where each character is a separate word, 140 characters is enough for a lengthy discourse.
The microblogs have forced the government to become more attuned to public opinion and have obliterated the Communist Party’s traditional control over the flow of information. More and more young Netizens say they get their news from weibo than from state-controlled television broadcasts or newspapers toeing the party line.
“Microblogging is a starting point of calling on the government to be more accountable,” said Hu Yong, a professor at Peking University’s journalism school.
No one expects the Internet to fashion any dramatic systemic reform. Already authorities have tried to rein in microblogs, shutting down some and requiring users to register their real names and identification numbers.
“It’s very much evolutionary, but not revolutionary,” said Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of Danwei.org, which tracks and researches Chinese media and Web sites. And the authorities, he said, “have been very good at neutralizing threats to power.”
The bloggers did not disagree.
“The tools have changed,” Wang said. “People can acquire better information faster and from different sources.
But he added: “If the government senses it is a threat, they will shut it down.”
Researcher Liu Liu contributed to this report.