Internet ensures woes are voiced

There are few areas of the Chinese economy as efficient as the country's propaganda and censorship system, writes Kathrin Hille . But the rapid rise of the internet - with more than 253m users, China's online population this year overtook that of the US - has created a space that, though in effect censored, allows for faster distribution and freer debate than traditional media.

As the economic crisis unfolds and its effect on China grows, that has been clearly felt.

Forums and blogs are increasingly focused on the economy and on the dark sides that the government would prefer not to have emphasised.

"The real estate market in China is worse than a gambling den," one blogger wrote earlier this week, complaining about falling prices. Another expressed outrage at the government's intention to impose a fuel tax.

While front pages usually reflect the preferences of the Communist party, web portals offer rankings of news items that often reflect a drastically different picture. On, China's most popular news portal, the party's economic work conference was the main headline for all of Monday, but the site's popularity ranking was led with a story on a journalist who had been detained in Beijing by Shanxi prosecutors.

News portals are not regarded as media organisations and are not allowed to generate anything other than sports and entertainment news.

They can, however, carry content produced by local news outlets and that can generate unforeseen effects.

After reports of a cab drivers' strike in the municipality of Chongqing - which in the offline world would have been confined to the area - were carried online, similar strikes mushroomed in other regions.

No responsibility can be taken for the content of external Internet sites.

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