“It’s the hundreds of thousands of Chinese bloggers who are the most reliable eyes and ears in China,” says Xiao Qiang , professor of journalism at the University of California in Berkeley and managing director of the China Digital Project. But western media also use the Internet to tackle the lack of information from China, in spite of the censorship.
Xiao Qiang opens his laptop in the lobby of a hotel in Amsterdam. He has just arrived, and “only wants to have a look to see what is going on on the Internet in China”. He is here for a lightning visit and is due to give a lecture on the Internet and China at the launch of Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s Chinese website. What’s his favourite Chinese site? “Several different Chinese bloggers, such as students, authors, journalists or technicians. That’s where you can find the information that is not on the official news websites.”
Qiang uses the travel chaos in southern China caused by heavy snowfall in recent weeks to illustrate his point. He surfs to a regional television station page and clicks on a video of the disaster. Behind the reporter, tanks file past. Lines of soldiers are filmed shoveling snow to clear the road. Mr Qiang says: “This is how the government wants the disaster reported: it is awful, but we shall do everything we can to resolve the situation. But the human suffering, the millions of people who can’t get home, the chaos and the despair are not on camera.”