China's Web Is Watching

Citizens frustrated by official corruption have a new weapon on their side: the Web.

2009.05.06
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China-Internet-Cafe-305.jpg Chinese netizens surf the Web at an Internet cafe in Hefei, in central China's Anhui province, Jan. 25, 2007.
AFP

HONG KONG—Chinese farmers in the southern island province of Hainan have called for an official investigation after they spotted a photograph on the Internet of a tomb for a local official who is still alive.

Residents of Ruyou village near the provincial capital of Haikou were surprised to see the tomb of Wang Anchun in a photograph posted online as part of a campaign to protect burial grounds from nearby road construction works.

According to Wang's epitaph, he was born in 1935 and was a former township chief and deputy director of the Chengmai county agricultural bureau.

Some online—and offline—research ensued before the villagers were sure of it: Wang Anchun is retired but still definitely alive, although his tomb was built in 1999.

Shocked Chinese netizens lashed out at Wang as a corrupt official with feudal pretensions. Still others defended him in the online debate, saying he was preoccupied with being buried next to his late wife.

Wang Jinxiang, who manages the popular watchdog Web site "China Monitor Web," hit out at Wang's use of public land for a personal tomb.

Chinese cyberspace is now very active."
Liu Xiaoyuan, legal expert

"As a member of the civil service, he shouldn’t be involved in this kind of thing," Wang Jinxiang said.

"If lots of people do the same, that will cost us a lot of land," he said.

Precious resource

Land is becoming a fiercely contested resource for China's rural communities, who face forced evictions and loss of farmland to property development schemes that yield scant compensation and make huge profits for local officials.

Beijing-based legal expert Liu Xiaoyuan said the case merited further attention.

"I hope the relevant government office will investigate the tomb of Wang Anchun," Liu said.

The case also highlights how ordinary Chinese people who have been stymied at every turn are increasingly turning to the Internet to gain moral and social support for their grievances.

In a separate case in the eastern province of Shandong,  farmers posted an open letter on the Internet, offering a reward of five million yuan (U.S. $733,000) to anyone who could help them recover public money embezzled by the Party secretary of Dongnan village, Changle county.

"To whoever is capable of retrieving the embezzled collective funds of 50 million yuan, we will pay five million yuan as a reward," said the letter, which detailed a nine-year campaign to bring the loss of the money to the attention of government offices at county, provincial and national level.

Years of petitioning administrative and judicial departments by more than 1,000 villagers had yielded no results, they said.

"A decade later, all our efforts have been in vain," said Liu Peiyi, one of the representatives of the villagers of Dongnan.

"So we have to call for the help of the media using this unusual method. We hope it will get the attention of our national leaders,” said Liu, whose campaign has been picked up by official media, including the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Internet watchdog

The Dongnan case has prompted official letters from the highest levels of government, including China’s National People’s Congress and Ministry of Public Security, calling for an official investigation.

But the funds are still missing, Liu Peiyi said.

Meanwhile, Beijing-based legal expert Liu Xiaoyuan said he still had some hope that the Internet could be used effectively to put pressure on the government.

"Chinese cyberspace is now very active," he said.

"It has the potential to expose many social maladies due to the anonymity of personal posts."

Original reporting in Mandarin by Yan Xiu and An Pei. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated by Chen Ping. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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