The widely read reports on the Internet that a public cemetery for revolutionary martyrs was opened for business purposes in Luoyang, a city in Henan Province, has generated much chatter in recent days.
The heated discussions surrounding the case, as with most of the controversies that have started or been fueled by the Internet, demonstrate that the World Wide Web has become an important platform for the expression of public opinion. It is playing an increasingly important role in shaping public discourse that should not be ignored.
China was home to 162 million netizens as of June last year, just behind the United States. And there were some 130 bulletin boards, giving China the most Internet forums of any country, according to the yearly bluebook on social development, published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on Thursday.
Meanwhile, blogging has also become an important channel for people to voice their opinions about important events. Some 50 million people nationwide frequently read blogs, according to the bluebook.
That 51 percent of netizens are under the age of 25, and 70 percent are under the age of 30 means young people are perhaps the most active when it comes to expressing their opinions on various issues. The flip side is that their opinions tend to be immoderate, and some even go to extremes by hurling violent verbal attacks at those who hold different opinions.
There is little question that the Internet will have an immeasurable impact on the building of the country's democracy and the strengthening of the rule of law over the long term. It has already become an important tool for checking the abuse of power and other irregularities.
Government bodies are fortunate to have such convenient access to the public voice so they can improve their work and identify their weak points. The bluebook points out that public commentary should be recorded and analyzed for such purposes.
We are happy to note that governments at various levels have set up their own websites and bulletin board systems, and that some leaders have even started to address the concerns of netizens by writing blogs of their own.
Of course, fair play guaranteed by effective rules is important. Both the central and local governments are obliged to make sure Internet portals observe the rules when it comes to managing bulletin boards so that abusive behavior is minimized and the free expression of opinions proceeds without fear or favor.
(China Daily January 5, 2008)