Netizens have always been smart. In the saying "The masses are the true heroes whereas we are often naive and risible," the masses are the netizens. Yet, the cadre leaders never praise the netizens as the true heroes. On the contrary, they are suspicious of the netizens. But no matter what, the grassroots-level cadres are becoming more respectful of the netizens.
There is the saying "We went for a stroll in order to encounter a good mayor." In this saying, the citizens are like timid stepchildren sneaking out for a stroll and encounter the mayor. I believe that if it were not for the Internet platform, the strolling citizens could encounter just about anything except the mayor. The probability of that encounter occurring is like winning the 100 million RMB lottery, with a single occurrence last year.
From the technological viewpoint, the mobile telephone is the endpoint for personal information (both sending and receiving) and it is a part of the Internet. The story about "encountering the mayor during a stroll" is flawed because it is seldom replicated. But there is another method that does not share the same flaw -- instead, people can do something independently of each other, they do not have to "stroll" in the street and they can still "encounter the mayor."
On January 3, People Net published a set of photographs of the scene in a courtroom in a certain county courthouse. The chief judge, the two jurors and the clerk were all dressed in civilian clothes; the judges were using their mobile telephone while the hearing was going on and the clerk was smoking a cigarette as he listened.
This news was reported in the morning! While the judge and company were smoking and making telephone calls, someone in the court took photographs and uploaded them. The information was then quickly spread around China. The three judges never expected that before they even stepped out of the courtroom, they had already become national news celebrities. This will become a legend of this Internet era.
On the next day, People Net followed up with a news item that is the equivalent of "the mayor showed up." The chief judge of the case (who was also the Chief Justice of the court) has been "suspended pending investigation." On the previous day, the caption on the photographs said that "such behaviors are not rare in courtrooms." But once the court people achieved the honorable mentions on the Internet, they immediately felt embarrassed and took action to placate the public.
Next we follow up the cases of "the school principal being arrested for asking the county mayor's signature" and "the county police goes to Beijing to arrest a reporter." In the former case, the incident had occurred one week ago without a stir. Once a media report appeared, the Internet boiled over. Within two days, the case was completely overturned. The penalties on the arrested principal were rescinded, and his job was restored. He had been ordered to apologize to the county mayor, but now the country party secretary, mayor, public security bureau director and Department of Education director made a collective apology to him! In the latter case, China Youth Daily reported on January 7 that the Xifeng county (Liaoning province) police went to Beijing to arrest a reporter. The whole Internet was up in arms. On January 8 (the day after the report appeared), the Xifeng public security bureau had already formally withdrew the case and rescinded the arrest warrant. On the afternoon of January 9, the Xifeng team arrived in Beijing to "apologize."
Before the citizens became netizens, the grassroots-level cadres and bureaucrats could often hide the facts. Nowadays, they cannot block the entire Internet anymore because they don't have the technological means. So they have to "adapt" to the Internet and reverse themselves at Internet speed! These are things that they didn't appreciate even with decades of political training, but now they are "forced" to do so by the Internet.
The Internet has provided a technology to produce a platform with equality of information access. Each netizen has the means to participate in public issues. You do not need to be a reporter. When you observe the mess in that courtroom, you can photograph the scene and send it to any website. In the Internet era, every netizen is also a reporter.
The Internet is rapidly, profoundly and fully transforming human society. Individuals and governments must adjust themselves to the rules of the Internet. China has now become a "grand nation of netizens." China has 210 million netizens, just 500,000 behind the United States of America. China may have the most fanatical netizens in the world. They hold great, even excessive, expectations for the Internet. Their Internet existence -- whether they are able to exercise their legal rights and whether they are becoming smarter and smarter"-- affects the harmony of the entire society in China.