Microblogging returned to normal on the mainland yesterday morning after an unprecedented three-day clampdown on 'rumour-mongering' via Twitter-like services.
The suspension was lifted on the two biggest microblogging sites, Sina and Tencent, which had been forced to stop their estimated 700 million users from commenting on posts made by others.
The clampdown, in effect from 8am on Saturday until 8am yesterday, came after Xinhua announced that six people had been detained for posting or circulating rumours about 'military vehicles on Beijing streets' and other rumours related to an alleged coup in the capital.
Sixteen websites were also reportedly shut down for allegedly spreading rumours. While most internet users hailed the end of the suspension, others noted that they didn't regard their fundamental right to free speech as an act of charity to be granted by authorities.
'It [the commenting] resumed, but I am not happy, because freedom, although very little, shouldn't come from charity,' a TV host in Jiangsu wrote on his Sina microblog. He added that he didn't get too attached to things that the government could take away at any time, such as the ability to post comments online.
Also yesterday, a prominent Shanghai-based writer said on his microblog that the suspension of commenting came as a 'warning, of sorts' by the government.
He said the government seemed to be suggesting: 'If I can take away commenting, I can also make you lose microblogs forever.' Both posts disappeared yesterday afternoon.
Following the government's campaign to 'cleanse harmful information and rumours', Sina and Tencent still prevented users yesterday from posting comments containing words and phrases such as 'coup', 'military vehicles', 'Changan Avenue curfew' or 'gunshots on Changan Avenue'.
But searches within Sina's microblog service for formerly banned words and names, including 'Bo Xilai', the sacked Chongqing party secretary; his wife 'Gu Kailai'; and Bo's former right-hand man, 'Wang Lijun', who reportedly attempted to defect to the US consulate in Chengdu in February, returned millions of results.
They included posts about Gu's rumoured dispute with British businessman Neil Heywood, Bo's personal assets and the controversial tuition fees of Bo's son, Bo Guagua. A search for 'Bo Xilai' alone produced 2.3 million results, 'Wang Lijun' fetched 2.7 million hits and 'Gu Kailai' returned nearly 50,000.
Chen Ziming, an independent political analyst based in Beijing, said the recent clampdowns on internet speech demonstrated it was still unrealistic to expect the government to loosen its grip on controls any time soon. 'There is still a tug of war [among different political factions],' Chen said.