China's firewall can't block the rise in chatter

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A Chinese Internet user browses for information on the popular search engine Google in Beijing
A Chinese Internet user browses for information on the popular search engine Google in Beijing Photo: Reuters/Stringer

There's been talk of a coup all week. The rumours started on Monday. There's something going on for sure. Hidden away in the leader's compound just off Tiananmen Square the party is not in full swing. Is this a crisis, a clash between hardliners and reformists for sure, but a crisis? It feels different because we know about the troubles at the top in far more detail the ever before.

For the first time in China's history, a power struggle at the top of the Communist Party is being played out in real time, on the internet. The high profile sacking of Party high flier Bo Xilai last week is being followed like the plot in a tightly written thriller by more people than the population of the United States. They no longer have to rely on the official media for their news.

China now has around 500 million online and about 300 million of those regularly use microblogging sites, what we would call Twitter. Despite the bans on well known western social media sites the government's firewall can't block the rising volume of chatter. The party's monopoly on information has been broken.

People use computers at an Internet cafe in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi province
People use computers at an Internet cafe in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi province Credit: Reuters/Stringer

It's a dangerous beast, as this week's rumour of a coup proves. There's no quick way of checking information out. The leadership is reclusive and posting about the up and downs of leaders can stray into state secrecy laws.

A few weeks ago there was even a rumour on the internet that Kim Jung Un had been assassinated at the North Korean embassy in Beijing. Try checking that one out by ringing the North Korean embassy in Beijing for news on their leader....

But this is all information Chinese citizens would never have had access to just a few years ago, true or false they are able to find out more about their leaders and the ongoing power struggle and therefore more about themselves.