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Columbia Journalism Review: China’s Chess Match - How the web has empowered the people

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    Feature — November / December 2010 China’s Chess Match - How the web has empowered the people Columbia Journalism Review By Howard French
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 16, 2010
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      Feature — November / December 2010
      China’s Chess Match - How the web has empowered the people
      Columbia Journalism Review
      By Howard French

      http://www.cjr.org/feature/chinas_chess_match.php

      [excerpt]

      Early in 2003, like millions of other migrants of his generation, Sun
      Zhigang, a young graphic designer, left central China, where he had
      attended university, and headed for the country’s booming industrial
      Southeast. His quest: work, and with luck, fortune.

      When he entered an Internet café one evening, shortly after his arrival in
      Guangzhou, he was stopped by police who demanded to see his ID, which he
      had left behind in his nearby apartment. It was a costly mistake. The
      police had just launched a large-scale dragnet of illegal migrants, and as
      was common at the time for people without papers, he was promptly hauled
      off to detention.

      Three days later, Sun Zhigang’s family was informed of his death, which
      the police claimed had been caused by a heart attack. But the Southern
      Metropolis Daily, a local tabloid that was just establishing itself as a
      powerful crusading force in the country’s news landscape, would not let
      the story end there. A few weeks later, it ran a two-page spread that put
      a far more sinister spin on the incident. Citing a confidential autopsy
      report, its bold headline read: UNIVERSITY GRADUATE, 27, SUDDENLY DIES
      THREE DAYS AFTER DETENTION ON GUANGZHOU STREET.

      Word of Sun’s death spread rapidly, so rapidly that what ensued was
      without precedent in China. Within two hours of the newspaper hitting the
      street, thousands of people from around the country had posted angry
      commentary on Sina.com, China’s largest news portal. What would quickly
      become known nationwide as the “Sun Zhigang case” had begun to go viral.

      After its initial scoop, the Southern Metropolis Daily was banned from
      reporting further on the incident, but old-fashioned censorship measures
      like this would prove too little, too late. Online discussion of the case
      was already mushrooming, and so was the scope of debate, which began with
      calls for justice in one particular tragedy but quickly led to far broader
      demands for legal reforms to put an end to the arbitrary detentions and
      other abuses routinely suffered by hundreds of thousands of migrant
      laborers.

      In June, with the Sun Zhigang case still the talk of the Internet, Chinese
      premier Wen Jiabao announced an end to regulations that police had used
      for two decades to summarily detain paperless migrants in hundreds of
      detention centers, which were maintained around the country solely for
      this purpose.

      Beijing has never acknowledged the public fury and Internet mobilization
      around the Sun Zhigang case as the driver of this major reform, but for
      most of China’s Internet-savvy public, the connection was unmistakable.

      Looking back, China’s Internet era could well be said to have begun with
      this case. Not literally, of course, since China had been online already
      for several years. But the outcry over Sun Zhigang’s death is widely seen
      in China nonetheless as the opening act in the age of the “netizen.”
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