TED Conversations

Arseny Knaifel

Student - B.A. Chinese Studies, FU Berlin

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To what extent and in what way do microblogs impact public opinion in China? Can they be seen as a precursor of free speech?

With over 500 million internet users, China has the world's largest netizen population. According to Sina, China's largest microblogging service Weibo has over 250 million users.

Vast reactions after the Wenzhou Train Crash in 2011 are seen to be a major contributing factor to the layoff of China's Minister of Railway spokes Wang Yongping. Pictures of Taiwan's recently reelected President Ma Ying-jeou proclaiming victory in the rain had Weibo users gazing across the straits with envy at a one man one vote democracy. Messages often reach millions of people before being censored.

In times where media and internet censorship in China is at it's peak, with a leadership change on its way in late 2012, what is the role of microblogs in China? Are they pushing the boundaries of what is accepted in public discussion or are they being instrumentalized as a release valve to decrease social tension? What good examples of their impact have there been in the past? What developments can be expected in 2012 and the following years?


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  • Jan 29 2012: I don't think the freedom of speech is essentially linked up to democracy. Like our experience in HK. We always have freedom of speech, but neither the colonial status or Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China give us right to have democratic election. The reason of ban inconvenient ideas is simple, avoid uprising from the communities. Case of Middle East is a good point. Thus it is very easy to understand, any speech of idea (like in micro-blogging) could gathering power in the communities and arouse as an uprising threaten to the government. Thus, it is ban. Because the government cannot afford it. As the size of China, I guess the world cannot afford China become a state of Middle Asia now. The population involved is huge,the uprising could happen in every single province (at least), meaning many uprising under different leadership and claiming different governance ideas fighting each other. And it is not at all able to be under control, no any single party could have full control once the current power shaken in China. From the experience of Middle East now, if old regime collapse means a peaceful transition to "democratic" country? Then the civilians are going to have promising future? I am not sure! Let's see!

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