Debate over China’s Future Takes Flight on Internet

An “e-congress” website set up to parallel the annual National People’s Congress meetings now underway in Beijing gives citizens a rare chance to offer their opinions and proposals to the government. The Globe and Mail reports:

In many ways, the online forum now matters more to those who rule over this rising superpower than the rubber-stamp parliament that is theoretically the guarantor of the country’s constitution. While the NPC’s 2,987 delegates sat silently through Mr. Wen’s two-hour speech yesterday, and then filed meekly onto government-organized buses that returned them to their hotels, the debate at an “e-congress” hosted on the website of the People’s Daily newspaper was marked by heated words on sensitive topics such as official corruption and whether Dubai-style asset-price bubbles are forming in China’s booming economy.

The Internet has for years been the most democratic place in China, hosting discussions that would never make it past the censors in the government-controlled newspapers and on television stations.

While the first instinct of the country’s rulers has been to try and stamp that out – social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked inside the People’s Republic, as are websites that refer to the bloodshed on Tiananmen Square in 1989 or portray the Dalai Lama in a positive light – leaders such as Mr. Wen and President Hu Jintao have also tried hard to appear responsive to the concerns of “netizens.”

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