The Chinese Internet is buzzing with reactions to an announcement by Internet giant Google that it would end government-backed censorship of its search engine there, and possibly withdraw from the country entirely.
"We have shouted slogans at the government in the streets, we have drunk tea with national security officers, we have been beaten up by police, and now we have laid wreaths outside Google's gates," wrote Twitter user iamzzm.
Passersby visited the headquarters of Google.cn in Beijing, leaving floral tributes and notes on the company's snow-bound logo.
"When I went there were at least 20 people there, some of them just onlookers, some taking photos," Beijing-based civil rights blogger Mo Zhixu said.
"There were quite a few who went there like me, walked up and down a couple of times and then left."
Mo said popular feeling about restrictions on the Internet had swelled to a high point in recent months.
"I think that the Internet used to give people a bit more space for freedom of expression, but that this space has shrunk in the past couple of years," he said.
The search term GoogleCN on the popular microblogging service Twitter saw hundreds of fresh updates every minute during China's evening peak hours, with many users focusing on whether the company had upheld its promise to pull the plug on censorship. Terms retrieved
Many said that previously forbidden search terms, especially politically sensitive key words like "Tiananmen 1989" and "Tanks in Tiananmen Square" were available early Thursday, but began to be blocked again around noon.
The photo of the man who walked in front of a column of tanks holding nothing but a shopping bag during the military crackdown on democracy protesters in Beijing, June, 1989, drew special interest from netizens.
"The Tank Man isn't the right word to call him," wrote Twitter user shuil after joining dozens of netizens in searching for the previously blocked picture. "He should be called the Tank Knight."
User springwjc reported having got results from "June 4 crackdown," "Tiananmen Square," "Tank Man," and a search for information linking a recent graft probe in Namibia to the son of Chinese President Hu Jintao.
"Such is the people's thirst for the truth," the update said.
Prominent Chinese blogger Isaac Mao posted an open letter to Google, meanwhile, saying many Web users felt let down by its actions.
"You can imagine how eager they are to have a complete Internet instead of a shrunken one," Mao wrote on his blog.
"Many users here were disappointed when they found Google.cn filtered many keywords...Seems you are adopting self-censorship which hurts those loyal users a lot [and devalues] your motto of 'non-evil.'" Undermining the firewall
Many of China's nearly 360 million netizens are disgruntled at the increasing failure of Internet circumvention tools to get around the sophisticated set of blocks and censorship filters known as the "Great Firewall."
Chinese netizens and overseas technology experts say the authorities are now successfully undermining key software used to get around the Great Firewall, such as U.S.-based software developer Andrew Lewman's Tor "tunneling" software and U.S.-based Dynamic Internet Technology's Freegate software.
Chinese authorities announced last month that private individuals would no longer be allowed to register domain names under China's ".cn" top-level domain.
Henan-based rights activist Ba Zhongwei, initiated the China Internet Protection Movement in response to what he described as growing curbs on personal freedoms.
"Economic reforms and opening up are a basic policy of the Chinese government," Ba said in a statement.
"Why are we still locked inside our own country by the actions of the government in this way?"
He called on Chinese Internet users to take up the call for greater freedom of expression "among people in your sphere of influence, on your personal blog, via the QQ instant message service, on forums, with relative government departments at every opportunity."
Some who published comments said Google's announcement was prompted by a small market share compared with rival Baidu, with an editorial in the official People's Daily Online technology channel titled "Google is Having a Tantrum."
Others set up a Web site called "Google Back to China" to campaign for the company to stay.
One user tweeted about Google's Chinese competitor, Baidu: "They know what it is you want to know, so they make sure that they don't let you know it ... Baidu: As soon as you ask, you'll know nothing," wrote user rtmeme in a parody of the search engine's slogan.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu responded to Google's complaints about cyberattacks on two of its account holders, saying that hacking was forbidden under Chinese law.
"China's Internet is open," she told a regular news briefing in a comment that spread fast on Twitter.
"The Chinese government supports the continuing development of the Internet, and to create a good environment for the healthy development of the Internet," Jiang said.Original reporting in Cantonese by Bat Tze-mak and by RFA's Mandarin service. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.