Bloggers keep the world posted with on-the-spot reports
Didi Kirsten Tatlow
The Xiamen protests were organised by text message and are being blogged for the world by a savvy citizen journalist called Bei Feng.
Part of a new breed of independent reporter on the mainland who eschews the heavily censored official media, Bei rushed to Xiamen when accounts began to reach his native Guangzhou of the confrontation in neighbouring Fujian province.
The first citizen reporter to rise to national attention was Zuola, or Zhou Shuguang, who blogged the holdout and subsequent destruction of a home in Chongqing in spring.
'I think this is historical as it's the first popular demonstration organised by text message that the government knew about and was unable to stop,' said Bei. 'There was an anti-Japanese demonstration organised by text message, but the government didn't know it was coming. This one they saw coming, but it still went ahead.'
Much in the style of television reportage, Bei was able to document the demonstration in real-time updates sent every few minutes from the scene by mobile phone. The messages were entered in a blog by associates living elsewhere on the mainland.
Rebecca MacKinnon - journalism lecturer at the University of Hong Kong and co-founder of GlobalVoices, a site that collates blogs from around the world - said Bei's text message-blog was fulfilling a unique function.
'If the mainland were a place with a free press, you would have people doing live TV reports at the scene and radio, but obviously that's not happening,' Ms MacKinnon said. 'So things like SMS text messaging and blogging end up being the only way people can communicate in real time. It's helping to get the information out in place of the traditional media.'
Text messages have caught on among activists in many Asian countries, especially the Philippines and South Korea.
'SMS has become the way to organise a group anywhere, and we're seeing it happen more and more in China,' she said. 'It will be very interesting to see how the government follows up on this, how they control and monitor it, as we know they have developed ways to keep tabs on and monitor and filter out these things.'