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Citizen Journalism in China

Alex Christie

20 June 2008

The China Daily recently ran an interesting article in how new media helped during the Sichuan earth quake on the 12th May.  One example used was of Zhang Qi who lived near the epicentre of the earthquake.  Because of the damage done to the surrounding roads by the quake and land slides, rescuers were having trouble getting into her city and so she posted online that there was an open field near her home that could serve as a landing area for relief helicopters.  Her post was quickly picked up and relayed to all major Chinese internet forums.  She soon received a phone call asking for more details on where she lived and the field. 

Now the Chinese Government is renowned for its online regulations, but I sure hope she posted her phone number otherwise this is some great tracking…

She isnt alone.  Since the quake happened survivors, rescuers and everyday Chinese have been flooding the web with personal accounts, videos, blogs, podcasts and pictures.

The spread of news on forums, blogs and bulletin boards have led to more transparency.  Within a couple of minutes of the earthquake happening there was coverage on the major news stations (10 minutes later CCTV started non stop coverage).  Compare this with the earthquake in Tangshan where 240,000 people lost their lives and the news of the time only mentioned that a quake had happened 140 miles west of Beijing.

That is not to say these forums are not full of conspiracy theorists, but they do can achieve things.  For example the news report says how some forum users were able to oust people who were misappropriating the tents for the survivors which led to authorities taking immediate action.

In Bing’s earlier post you can see what Google and Baidu were doing to help people find information on those missing.  These major search engines, as well as almost all the portals in China, served as message boards mourning the victims.  Over 1 million people have left messages on Sina alone (about 1 in 140 people).

So, while many people in the West make comments on how restricted the use of the internet is in China,  the rampant use of social media (so much more then the UK) means that Chinese users have access to almost all the information that they could ever want.

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