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China's "Netizens" Pry Open a Closed World

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, November 13 2009

The Washington Post's Keith B. Richburg has a great look at tech-empowered political and social resistance in China, where taking an online stand against the authorities can earn you much more than an unkind word from powers that be. A powerful culture of civic watchdoggery seems to be developing, despite the considerable risks:

Last June in Hubei province, an online campaign by netizens, as they a re popularly called here, helped free a 22-year-old waitress arrested for killing a local official in what appeared to be a clear case of self-defense. In Nanjing, a top official was expelled from the Communist Party and jailed after angry netizens posted photos online of him smoking expensive cigarettes, sporting a pricey watch and driving a Cadillac.

Across the country, online petition drives and surveys have prompted police to reopen closed cases, authorities to cancel unpopular development projects and the party's national leadership to fire corrupt local officials.

In the view of academic experts, lawyers, bloggers and others here, the Internet is introducing a new measure of public accountability and civic action into China's closed and opaque political system. "This is the era of disguised accountability," said Hu Xingdou, a sociology professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology.

"That means holding government officials accountable by relying on the Internet rather than on traditional means like elections and the checks by the Congress."

Moving stuff.

Global Voices' new Threatened Voices directory lists 34 Chinese bloggers who have been arrested or otherwise threatend by the authorities -- including Dr. Gao Yaojie, an 82 year-old gynecologist and AIDS activist.