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Jiang, dead or alive? China internet abuzz

world Updated: Jul 07, 2011 22:57 IST
Highlight Story

It is the most popular subject on China's Internet that no one is allowed to talk about.

After overseas media reported the death of former president Jiang Zemin, web-savvy Internet users in China are finding creative ways to jump the Great Firewall, the cloak of Internet security authorities use to disrupt or halt access to things deemed too sensitive for the Internet.

Type "Jiang Zemin" into a microblog or search box in China and you don't get much but a blocked site or a sluggish connection. Write it into a blog and you are inviting scrutiny.

Sensitive comments are often deleted as quickly as they appear.

But using terms like "Uncle Jiang," "super-sovereign backstage ruler," and "former emperor," Chinese are engaging in a rather lively, if oblique, debate about the issue.

Chinese state media denied a Hong Kong television station's reports that Jiang had died, sparking a wave of speculation about the 84-year-old's condition. Despite censorship, the keyword search "Jiang Zemin" was the most-discussed topic on the popular Twitter-style site Weibo on Wednesday night.

More than 140 million Chinese have embraced microblogs - 140-character messages - as their latest tool for spreading information and opinions that can rile Chinese Communist Party's officials.

Jiang aside, Weibo search results for China's current premier and president, Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao, respectively, have long been blocked.

Search results for "Jiang" (which means river), "Chang Jiang" (the Yangtze River), "Taishanghuang" (super-sovereign backstage ruler) and "Xiandi" (former emperor) showed pages that said "according to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results are not displayed."

China's top search engine Baidu did not block Jiang's name and its data showed that the number of searches for "Jiang Zemin" spiked more than 4,000% this week.

China blocks popular foreign sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, fearing the uncensored sharing of images and information could cause social instability, especially after online calls for Arab-inspired "Jasmine Revolution" protests.