China web users turn keen eye back on government

Tue Mar 31, 2009 3:09am EDT
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By Ian Ransom

BEIJING (Reuters) - Already under pressure to create jobs and growth while clinging to absolute power, China's Communist Party faces a growing headache from Internet users keen to expose its members' sometimes questionable habits.

A pair of receipts from an upscale karaoke club sparked the latest Internet-led furor over government corruption earlier this month, ending the career of a mid-level bureaucrat from Liuyang, in southern Hunan province.

Scanned and uploaded by a nameless surfer, the dockets listed 47,000 yuan (nearly $7,000) worth of dining, massage and other services, prompting Internet users to ask how a public servant in a local media watchdog could stretch his meager government salary so far.

The Liuyang scandal followed a string of similar media storms in recent months, triggered by the Internet exposures of officials enjoying luxury overseas holidays in the name of "study" trips, or photographed wearing expensive-looking watches.

With China's state-controlled media often reluctant to report, and Party-appointed watchdogs sometimes embroiled in scandal themselves, China's Internet users have taken it upon themselves to ferret out official corruption.

"There is a sense that the central government has lost control over the county and city level officials in many places," said Rebecca McKinnon, an Internet expert at Hong Kong University.

"We've got the financial crisis and a lot of people concerned about corruption and how the nation's finances are managed."

Graft is hardly new in China, where the ruling Communist Party has warned it could prove their downfall.   Continued...