Microblogs — called “weibo” — seem to be one step ahead of China’s notoriously efficient censors, with a dozen microblogging sites, more than 120 million users and a million posts every hour. Web sites such as Facebook and YouTube are blocked in China. Sensitive broadcasts on BBC and CNN are blacked out. Even text messages with words such as “jasmine” and “revolution” may be bounced back as undeliverable.
But weibo users are regularly engaged in a virtual debating free-for-all, touching on some of the most off-limits or politically touchy topics.
There are microblog comments on the uprisings in the Middle East — including questions on whether the popular unrest might spread to China. There is talk of political reform, including users posting and re-posting remarks by Premier Wen Jiabao calling for more openness. Even discussion of Tibet and the Dalai Lama are allowed.
Still, posts involving the jailed dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo or the outlawed Falun Gong spiritual movement may be deleted or blocked from re-posting. “Weibo has become the public hall for people to discuss public affairs and formulate opinions,” said Hu Yong, associate professor of journalism at Peking University. “Weibo has become the most prominent place for free speech in China.”