During the past two weeks, thousands of deputies and delegates have taken part in annual plenums in Beijing . But according to Min Dahong, an expert on new media from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, many more have discovered the internet as a channel for expressing views on just about everything. Professor Min said that while some people taking part in online discussions were simply irrational, at least traditional media outlets no longer dictated what people could say. 'Online commentaries demonstrate nationalism in foreign affairs and realistic criticism when it comes to domestic issues,' he said. Anti-Japanese sentiment is there for all to see on the internet, as is the desire for the reunification of the mainland and Taiwan. Issues of corruption and injustice also receive a great deal of attention on sites where discussion of such matters are not blocked. And contributions to these sites appear to be having an impact on events outside cyberspace. Last year at least two municipal-level officials were heavily criticised on the internet. One was Shenzhen 's deputy party secretary, Li Yizhen, who was alleged to have forced local students to pay to watch a film his daughter wrote, produced and starred in. The claim appeared on the Net, with what parents said was proof of his heavy handedness. The public outcry soon aroused the interest of the media, bringing the issue to national attention. The other high-profile case involved the former vice-mayor of Jining in Shandong province, Li Xin. Three photos showing Li on his knees, allegedly pleading for a potential whistle-blower not to go public, were widely posted on the Net. Mr Xin was arrested in January, charged with accepting 4 million yuan in bribes. Even state leaders such as President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have publicly confessed to reading online message forums. 'The ability to offer views on the internet means a record of public opinion is formed in cyberspace that sometimes has very real repercussions,' Professor Min said. According to the academy's latest survey on internet usage, most of the mainland's 94 million internet users increasingly see it as a force for 'positive change in the country'. About 72 per cent agreed it offered more opportunities for citizens to express political views, and about 61 per cent said it provided people with more scope to criticise government policies. And more than 72 per cent said it helped higher officials gain a better understanding of what the masses were thinking. The academics who conducted the survey said there was hope that 'the new technology will fundamentally change the Chinese political system'.