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80,259 News Articles

Chinese web users find their voice

Freedom of speech - but it's not without risks

The internet promises to reshape political life in China, giving people more opportunities to criticise their government, according to a survey conducted by a Chinese researcher.

Public political discourse is tightly controlled in China. Bulletin boards are routinely censored of undesirable posts and access is blocked to overseas websites that officials deem politically unacceptable. In several cases, internet users have been jailed for disseminating politically sensitive information over the net.

Nevertheless, Chinese PC users see more opportunities to criticise their government because of the internet, according to a survey of 2,376 respondents in five cities that was led by Guo Liang, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The survey found that 54 percent of respondents felt that using the internet gives people more opportunities to criticise the government. By comparison, 61 percent of respondents in China felt the same way in 2003.

While the 2005 figure is slightly lower than the result in 2003, the overall response remained positive. In 2003, China was the only country surveyed where users responded positively to the question of whether the internet created more opportunities for users to criticise their governments, said a report that outlined the survey's results.

The other countries surveyed in 2003 were Chile, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, South Korea, Singapore, Japan and the US Comparison figures for 2005 were not available.

In addition to finding more opportunities to criticise their government, Chinese internet users see the web reshaping politics in several other ways. The survey found that 55 percent of respondents felt the internet can help government better serve the people and 60 percent said it will help officials to better understand the views of common people. The survey also showed that 45 percent of respondents believe people can have more political power by using the internet.

Based on these results, the report said the political impact of the internet is just beginning to be felt. "We can predict that as internet use becomes more popular in China, its impact on politics will become stronger," it said.

China's internet population numbers 105 million, according to September figures published by the Ministry of Information Industry. That figure makes China home to the second-largest population of internet users, after the US, but it represents less than 10 percent of the country's 1.3 billion population.


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