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Online fan clubs offer window into army trends
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In reality he is Li Xiao, a 21-year-old college student from central China's Anhui province. In cyberspace, he goes by the name "Land Tiger" and is a three-year veteran of Super Camp, an online military fan club.

He is among 10,000 registered users of the Guangdong-based club, whose discussion forums attract around 100,000 viewings from fellow enthusiasts each day, said Li, who feels the statistic proves the Internet is already a powerful tool to link the public and the People's Liberation Army (PLA).

"You can't overlook us," he said. "We will still be an expressway linking the army and the public even after the launch of the Ministry of National Defense website. We know what interests enthusiasts."

Experts believe military fans in China are a mixed bag of amateur gadget-lovers, specialists and a small number of serving personnel under assumed names. Wang Jinling, a PLA veteran and armed forces expert in Beijing, explained: "They are at the grassroots but their discussions often reflect the latest military trends."

Military fans have become experts in picking out interesting tit-bits from the regular yet tightly controlled defense reports to keep up to date with the latest developments.

"If you are a member of China's military fans community, you basically know all the most interesting gadgets and inner workings of the army," said Li.

A captain with the PLA Navy, who asked to remain anonymous, told China Daily he was a "loyal member" of a fan club, as did a veteran with the marine corps.

Some fans, however, go too far and, in August 2005, Zhang Jinchuan was jailed for a year on charges of gaining State secrets when he photographed a military airport near Chongqing and offered them online.

(China Daily July 23, 2009)

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