Obama’s reference to censorship and the internet in Shanghai today came as little surprise to those of us who attended a briefing last week organised by the US embassy. No traditional journalists were present; instead a range of prominent bloggers fresh from the fifth Chinese Blogger Conference in Guangdong province and a mix of opinion leaders were invited to three consulates in China, linked by a video conferencing system.
The respected blogger Wen Yunchao said many internet users wanted Obama to urge Chinese leaders to release the internet from heavy censorship. In response, Wang Zheng, from Chinese Media University, argued that mainstream public opinion was not bothered about internet freedom – that they cared instead about financial freedom and freedom to travel. Bloggers in attendance swiftly tweeted Wang’s remarks, triggering a big debate online. Within hours he had been given a new moniker by the twittersphere: Mr Mainstream.