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Chinese citizen journalism succeeds

State bows to public outcry and cancels a copper plant building after citizens raise environmental concerns.
Last modified: 5 Jul 2012 08:13
The protests in Shifang city are the latest unrest spurred by environmental concerns in China [Reuters]

Scrolling down on one of China’s biggest news portal sites Sina.com or reading local newspaper this week in China, you won't find the top news of the country. This is a week for the flourishing citizen journalism on China's twitter-like service Sina Weibo.

With over 300 million registered users and daily tweets of over 100 million, Sina Weibo tells you exactly what people care about the most everyday, and this week, with millions of tweets everyday, the key word Shifang dominated the top 10 most talked-about subjects online.

Shifang is a city in southwest China where mass protests broke out on Sunday and Monday against the building of a copper alloy plant - the protest escalated when police not only used teargas but also stun grenades on the crowd.

Almost all of the initial reports and pictures are from Sina Weibo where millions of people commented and re-tweeted. The bloody pictures of people being wounded heavily by the stun grenades enraged the microblog users, "this is utter shamelessness. Is this how they treat people? Is the next step tanks? No wonder other countries criticize China for lack of democracy, we are the children of an evil stepmother".

By Tuesday, the top subject talked about on Sina weibo is Shifang, with over 100 million entries.

For even better publicity, China's top blogger Hanhan wrote a blog entry about the Shifang protest. With about 600 million total visits to his blog, Hanhan is the most well-known blogger who is outspoken about China's social, political problems.

He criticized the government's sudden act of violence, "what I see from the photos are violence towards people from the state apparatuses…such brash decision to use violence…will only escalate the situation".

And it's not hard to see the achievement of the citizen journalism campaign. By Tuesday evening, officials in the city posted a statement announcing that "Shifang will not build this project henceforth" and added that the decision was made due to public concern.

This is still new in China, with a growing middle class defending their right for a better quality of life. In 2011, tens of thousands of people protested in the Northern city of Dalian against a toxic chemical plant. But getting the problem solved so fast, Shifang is a first.

An active involvement of the younger generation of protesters made this possible. China calls them the after-90s, people who are born after 1990. According to official announcements and weibo entries, high school students play an important role in the protests where they marched in the front lines with banners followed by their parents and family.

Sina weibo has over 60 per cent of users who are under 30 years old. So it's not hard to see how the young generation grasped the power of speech and made a real difference.

Like blogger Hanhan analyzed in his article on Wednesday, "I thought that us, the after-80s, after-90s, we are the sacrificed generation, but now maybe we can fulfill the wishes our fathers' generation didn't manage to fulfill. These are the masters of our future, they have come…to make a change…to do something good."