Blogs provide platform to air different opinions
My doctor friend last week told me she wanted to start a blog. "I want to speak out for doctors," she said.
She explained that health workers are misrepresented by the media and voices like hers should be heard.
A blog seems to be her solution.
My friend is not alone. More Chinese than ever before are becoming bloggers, an estimated 10 million in total, even though the phenomenon arrived in China only three years ago.
The latest bunch of green hands are those attending the "liang hui" the annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
Those attending the meetings used to be regarded as elites in the eyes of the average man on the street. It is no more the case, at least not in the virtual realm.
It is not only deputies and delegates blogging at the conference. Journalists and other common citizens are participating, with the latter group more active than one can imagine. They follow events and submit their opinions and proposals online.
If there is one particularly new and innovative aspect of the current sessions, then it surely is the blogging. Perhaps it's no surprise, given the drive to turn China into an innovation-oriented country.
One such blogger is Zhao Lihong, a CPPCC member from Shanghai. He was shocked to find that in just two days his blog received more than 1,000 viewers and over 100 written responses. He writes, "It seems I underestimated the influence of blogs. What has moved me are the comments and opinions following my articles. These are expressions from ordinary people, rich in content and true to life."
Shocked he might be, since some of the comments are from marginalized groups whom he otherwise may not be able to meet or hear.
I also follow some of the blogs and their comments, and find them interesting, informative, intriguing, and often provocative.
One of the focal points at the meetings was a Xinhua journalist's suggestion that Premier Wen Jiabao set up a blog. It received an immediate positive response, though of course there were some messages saying that the premier was too busy to spend his time blogging.
I agree that neither cyberspace, nor the social environment, is ready for a blog by the Chinese premier, despite the blog revolution sweeping the country.
Do not mistake me to mean the country lacks democracy.
Democracy defined in Western terms is hardly relevant in China today.
However, to say bloggers are challenging China's mainstream media is not only relevant but also much to the point.
Bloggers are not contributors in the conventional sense of journalists playing the key role in the media.
Million of Chinese have embraced the Internet as a platform to express themselves. They have empowered themselves and become unconventional media practitioners.
Pan Shiyi may not be the most convincing example in this regard, since he and his real estate business were already in the media limelight before he became a blogger, but he is certainly the most successful one.
His recent open blog debate with another real estate tycoon Ren Zhiqiang has drawn wide media attention.
The debate began with Pan's open blog letter to Ren Zhiqiang who said recently that it is "only too natural" to see there are "segregated zones for the rich and the poor."
"Before there were 'qiongren qu'(zones for the poor) everywhere in China. Now there are 'qiongren qu' and 'furen qu' (zones for the rich). That is only too natural just like letting some people get rich first. Let some people move into 'furen qu' first, then eventually all will live in 'furen qu'," Ren said.
Ren touched on China's current nerve concerning equality. Indeed China moved from being a society with relatively equal income distribution in the early 1980s to one that is far less equal today.
It is therefore no surprise Ren's remarks became a hot topic. Ren was well aware what he said on the rich and poor divide would draw harsh criticism and he insisted that being a businessman it was not his responsibility to take care of the poor.
Pan entered the debate and wrote an open letter to Ren on his blog with the title "I do not support building segregated zones for the rich and the poor in new city construction."
Of course Ren retaliated and called Pan "ignorant." Pan responded again. Hundreds of pages written by netizens followed their debate.
The pros and cons are quite evenly matched and the divide is clear. Sina.com took a survey of 38,391 people, 48 per cent said they did not agree with segregated zones while 42 per cent agreed with the idea.
The climax came when both Pan and Ren were invited to appear on a Phoenix TV programme.
The much-anticipated fierce debate did not occur as Ren's eloquent presentation was much in agreement with Pan: That the problem of qiongren qu and furen qu is a developmental issue.
To Pan's amusement, the two did not differ much. Pan concludes the episode in his blog:
"After the TV programme, I asked President Ren, 'How come you now share my view?'
"He said, 'Leaders criticized me ...I have to be careful with what I say since the liang hui is in session'."
Pan came out the winner and his blog has since registered over 2 million viewers.
(China Daily 03/09/2006 page4)
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