Chinese leaders are announcing new plans to strengthen controls over the Internet and other social media, following a year where such technologies have played a key role in channeling public discontent, around the world. But the Internet’s rapid growth in China and the quick adoption of new technologies by political activists are challenging state efforts at control.
Chen Guangcheng is a blind lawyer who was imprisoned in 2006 after he accused local family planning officials of forcing women to undergo abortion and sterilization. He was released in 2010, but has been under house arrest since then. Recent reports from media and human rights groups say he has been brutally beaten.
People from around China have shared information about Chen’s case on online microblogging sites and have been going to his village to show their support.
One supporter, Mao Hengfeng, 50, from Shanghai was among a group of more than 30 people who say they were beaten when they went to Chen’s village this week.
She says she does not use the Internet because her health is poor, and that she cannot even send messages on her mobile phone. But in an acknowledgement of the Web’s growing importance, she says she has savvy friends who help her with the Internet.
More people online
Chinese officials say some 400 million people are now online in the country, the most in the world. Although online forums allow information to travel much more broadly than was possible, even a few years ago, analysts say the Internet is having an impact on what issues are discussed and debated within Chinese society.
David Bandurski, with Hong Kong University’s China Media Project, points to the “Free Chen Guangcheng” campaign as a turning point in Chinese activism.
“Recently and still, the Chen Guangcheng case, the blind lawyer in Shandong province, who has been an international case in Chinese human rights for years now, has finally become a domestic issue,” Bandurski said. “Ordinary Chinese are very concerned about the Chen Guangcheng case and various aspects of it.”