Chinese Bloggers Uncover The Truth

The role of bloggers has been firmly established: they are self-appointed ombudsmen, documenting mistakes by media and government. But in China, where the Web is less censored than the mainstream media, Netizens have carved out an especially crucial role. Recently, a Shenzhen official resigned after a viral video showed him apparently fondling an 11-year-old girl. Another cadre got sacked after bloggers noticed his $15,000 Swiss watch.

Then last month came the story—bogus, as it turned out—of a Chinese businessman's ex-mistress, who killed herself and injured him and four other mistresses when she drove them all off a cliff near Qingdao. Peninsula News reported that she wanted revenge after being "laid off" by the man, who could afford only one; to winnow the field, he'd asked all five to compete in a "talent contest." Tellingly, it wasn't the outrageous premise that made Netizens skeptical—it was the details, such as the $733 monthly allowance that each mistress allegedly received. "Too low for female college grads," one blogger argued. Peninsula News printed a retraction and sacked the reporter behind the hoax.

The government is slowly making its peace with bloggers' new clout. In Yunnan province, widespread skepticism greeted official reports that Li Qiaoming, 24, detained on charges of illegal logging, was fatally kicked in the head on Feb. 12 while playing "hide-and-seek" with other inmates. In a bold move, provincial authorities picked a 15-member "truth-finding committee" headed by well-known blogger Zhao Li to conduct an inquiry. But then the plot thickened. Bloggers discovered that Zhao had received government money to post pro-Beijing comments "at times of public-opinion crisis." (The government reportedly has as many as 30,000 such agents, all paid by the word.) "The panel is a joke," grumbled one blogger. In China, uncovering the truth is also a game of hide-and-seek.