Twitter is blocked in China. Even so, a large and growing community of Chinese people are using it every day to trade news, ideas, and increasingly first-hand information about things that people are experiencing or witnessing. Several people have reported their detentions or "chats" with police live on Twitter. Others recently used Twitter to mobilize postcard-writing campaigns to get friends released from jail. If you want to keep abreast of the most interesting liberal-leaning social and political commentary on the Chinese Internet, Twitter is the most effective way. Since all of the Chinese domestically hosted social networking and blog-hosting services are heavily censored, China's liberal digerati have had to move outside the "great firewall" in order to have an un-censored real-time conversation with one another.
For this reason it was not surprising that the official theme of the 5th Chinese Blogger Conference - held at the mouth of a cave in Lianzhou, Guangdong province - was "Micro Power, Broader World." The sessions ranged from the inspirational and theoretical to the very practical. Some veteran activists spoke overtly about using the Internet to push for civil rights and even political reform. Others focused on the personal - one popular travel blogger described how he shows Chinese readers how to travel to as many countries as possible on as little money as possible. His motto is: "The world will be different because I have lived." Several college students described how they use the Internet to run charitable efforts to help poor rural and migrant children. Zhou Shuguang (a.k.a. Zola) gave a tutorial on dozens of different ways to access Twitter. Another speaker gave a tutorial on how to be a citizen journalist. Tips included: Understand the basics of Internet and data security. Get a blackberry so that you can post live to Twitter. Be prepared in advance in the event you get in trouble. Know your legal rights and be confident when threatened that you're acting within your legal and constitutional rights. Make sure you have contact information of a few civil rights lawyers.
As Isaac Mao declared at the first Chinese Blogger Conference in Shanghai in 2005, "everybody is somebody." The idea that the individual has value, rights, and responsibilities has been a strong theme at every conference over the past five years. Each and every person is responsible for the state of their home, their profession, their community, and their country. Here's how blogger-journalist-academic Hu Yong put it in his opening keynote (exceprted and translated by Oiwan at Global Voices Online):
Every single person has to bear one's responsibility and such sense of responsibility is micro power. The meaning of micro refers to every single Chinese citizen ... The meaning of power refers to action that brings change to the world.
..Every individual can take initiation where ever they want. This is how I understand micro power.
Read Oiwan's whole post for more people's perspectives on "micro power" on the Chinese Internet.
One participant who sat next to me on the bus back to Guangzhou told me he comes to these conferences every year to remind himself he's not alone. His co-workers and family don't have much interest in or sympathy for the CNBloggercon rhetoric. In fact they find it dangerous and subversive, despite the fact that nothing said or done at any of the CNBloggercon conferences I've attended has violated any Chinese laws in any way.
But in China, simply making a point of exercising your constitutional rights can be a major feat. For the last four years the Chinese Blogger Cons were held in major cities. This year has been so politically sensitive - thanks to the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, among other things - that organizers only announced the conference a few weeks in advance. The meeting itself was held in a tourist hiking area at the mouth of a cave in a place called Lianzhou - four hours north of Guangzhou - which many residents of Guangzhou have never even heard of.
As blogger and citizen journalist Zhang Shihe (a.k.a. "Tiger Temple") put it, the CNBloggerCon community is engaged in an effort to "boil the frog in the reverse direction" - get the regime slowly used to functioning in an environment in which independent liberal voices are present and heard, without needing to freak out or fall apart. As Ran Yunfei (pictured at the top of this post) put it: "As we use the Internet every day, it changes us - It has made me more tolerant and taught me to play by a set of rules... As we train ourselves we are also training the government.. hopefully one day they will understand that they don't need to be afraid of us, that we can all legally and rationally coexist."