Blogging, a form of citizen journalism, has caught on so much in China that even some government officials are getting into it.
The highest-ranking official or former official to write a blog is Zhao Qizheng, former director of the State Council Information Office, now president of the Journalism School of Renmin University in Beijing.
He launched the blog "Zhao Qizheng and his books" (http://blog.sina.com.cn/zhaoqizheng) on August 3 and uploaded several chapters of his latest work In the One World - 101 Tips on How to Communicate with Foreigners. One of them, about the importance of smiling, has been read by nearly 40,000 netizens since it was posted a week ago.
In a letter of August 14, Zhao thanked netizens for reading and commenting on his blog and apologized that he could not respond to each comment or question because he could only surf the Internet for limited time every day, and that he was a slow typist.
Some netizens have used his blog to speak directly with the former top news official.
One of them, called "Peach", a journalism student complained of a perceived lack of jobs in the industry and asked for his advice.
The direct interaction between bloggers is one of the most appealing elements about this form of communication.
Arguably the most popular blog run by an official is that of Liao Xinbo, deputy director of the provincial health bureau of South China's Guangdong Province.
Liao calls himself "Doctor Brother Bozi" and his blog (http://blog.sina.com.cn/liaoxinbo) has been read more than 650,000 times since it was launched last April. At present it ranks the sixth most popular blog in Guangdong.
The health official is known for being outspoken. On Monday, he posted an article by an anonymous doctor which blamed China's apparent failure on medical reform over the last 30 years on the lack of fair pay for doctors.
"If the situation continues, the next medical reform is doomed to fail again," the post warned.
Liao also argued in his blog that health services were not a commodity that should be "bought" by patients, a key point that health providers need to serve the public, instead of trying to rake in money.
Netizens who agreed with Liao proposed the official lobby his allies at the provincial people's congress - the legislative body - to draft a law especially for medical contracts.
Netizens even went as far as drafting their own medical contract law, which Liao posted on August 24 commenting: "I have never studied laws and cannot give any comments. I wish my friends who are interested to give their ideas".
Dozens of lawyers responded.
According to one of them, legal tangles in the medical sector were difficult to settle because there were already too many laws, but not one powerful or specific enough to tackle problems with malpractice disputes.
The netizen proposed that it was with some urgency that a law was drafted that covered the entire sector, instead of one that specifically dealt with contracts.
Whether or not the fact the netizens' law proposals were right or wrong, their interaction with this sort of blogging demonstrates how ordinary people can debate the merits of such proposals.
Liao's blog, with its inspiring discussions, provides a prime example of a form of "direct democracy".
There are no figures available as to how many officials have blogs in China.
However, in Suqian, a mid-sized city in East China's Jiangsu Province, 81 middle and high-ranking officials in the municipal government have opened blogs on the government website (http://blog.suqian.gov.cn/).
Their Communist Party secretary, Zhang Xinshi, took the lead.
"Zhang hopes that those who are in charge at the different government organs can also have blogs so that they can express their ideas, attract people's discussions and build an efficient channel of communication between officials and ordinary citizens," said a Suqian Daily report about a working conference this April.
Zhang has updated his blog almost every day and written long articles on weekends about a wide range of topics from global climate change to professional education.
An article on "civilized behavior" prompted the local Suqian Daily to open a column about the topic, and more than 100,000 pupils and high school students distributed pamphlets on civilized behavior in the streets of his city.
Almost each of Zhang's online articles was read more than 400 times, but there have been few posted responses from the public.
When a comment was made, it often turned out to be a pledge of a subordinate to implement the Party secretary's ideas, not public feedback.
A report in the People's Daily last month said officials in Suqian had published more than 1,700 articles on their blogs and these articles were read by more than 760,000 netizens.
"It is a good thing that officials opened blogs and strengthen their communication with the ordinary citizens," Xie Chuntao, professor at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, said.
As part of China's e-governance construction, 12,000 government websites have been built in the past decade, according a report by Xinhua News Agency last December.
More than 96 percent of the central government organs, 90 percent of provincial governments, 96 percent of municipal governments and 77 percent of county governments have their own websites.
"By further exploring the communication possibilities of blogs, officials may better win the citizens' trust if there is successful communication between the two sides," said Mao Shoulong, political science professor at Renmin University of China in a commentary in the People's Daily last year.
But he also feared that some officials may have their opinion influenced by the "small club in cyberspace".
"Actually, if we want the government to get nearer to the ordinary citizens, we can make more efforts on improving our democratic system instead of using the highly personalized blogs," he said.
"At the current stage, we can improve the government websites that widely exist, and make them work better in publicizing policies and communicating with netizens. This is a more constructive choice."