Chinese citizens see rare opportunity for free speech online

Agence France-Presse broke an unusual story about emerging free speech today. The story wasn’t strange for what it was about, but where: the People’s Republic of China.

The People’s Daily, long regarded as a mouthpiece for the ruling Communist Party, opened up what they are calling the “Direct Line to Zhongnanhai;” Zhongnanhai is the name of the leadership compound in central Beijing.

About half of the posts are celebratory of the Chinese government, but the other half are scathing criticisms of the Party and Premier Hu Jintao. Topics raised by posters include corruption, increasing prices, poor wages and, somewhat fittingly, a lack of free speech.

A few examples of posted comments:

“If you are concerned with the people’s livelihood, then show some sympathy — kill corrupt officials and local tyrants.”

“Brother Hu, isn’t it interesting that I have left so many messages, but they have all been harmonised. Can’t you let us speak the truth?” [Note: “harmonised” is a euphemism for “censored” in China, as censorship authorities claim to do their work for the preservation of “social harmony”]

“When will prices come down? Prices of goods are rising, housing prices are rising. The only thing not rising is wages.”