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Young, angry ... and wired

CNN's Kristie LuStout

About 100 million people in China use the Internet, primarily for e-mail.
Beijing (China)
Computer Security

(CNN) -- On May 4 in 1919, students in Beijing launched a nationwide movement against imperialism and a government that had failed to stand up to the West and Japan.

More than 80 years later, a new generation in China is flexing its nationalist muscle. Its members are still stoked by hostility toward Japan, but now they're powered by laptops and high-speed broadband.

About 100 million people are wired to the Internet in China. More than half are male, and under the age of 25.

They venture into cyberspace for e-mail first and foremost. Nearly 9 out of 10 Net users polled by China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) say e-mail is the most important function of the Internet.

But they also wander online to trawl for news, chat with friends... and sign petitions.

The Patriotic Alliance Network (its domain name is taken from the date Japan annexed Manchuria) claims to have collected more than 20 million signatures in its online campaign to prevent Japan from getting a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

The site also rallied resistance to help kill a deal for a Japanese group to build a high-speed train from Shanghai to Beijing.

The Anti-Japan Pioneer is another destination for China's net-savvy agitators. Identified in cyberspace as, the Pioneer shows digital snapshots from recent protests, as well as grisly black and white photos of Japanese wartime atrocities.

Both sites are popular and powerful tools for anti-Japan protest. But analysts say it's only a matter of time before demonstrators shift gears and direct their anger at Beijing.

From the Boxer Rebellion to the May Fourth Movement, China has a history of anti-foreign protests turning against those in power.

Suggesting it would no longer tolerate anti-Japan protests, China's Ministry of Public Security announced on April 22 that any "unauthorized marches" were illegal.

Beijing also put the brakes on virtual protest, closing down several Web sites and toning down the anti-Japan rhetoric in cyberspace.

Under the cyber curtain

John Palfrey, Executive Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and author of the "Internet Filtering in China in 2004-2005" report, considers China's Net control regime the most sophisticated effort of its kind in the world.

"There is no question that the Chinese government is far and away the most adept of any state at blocking access to sensitive political content online," says Palfrey.

Internet users in China are routinely blocked from Web sites featuring politically taboo topics such as Taiwan independence, the Dalai Lama, Falun Gong, and the Tiananmen Square incident.

Numerous state agencies police the Net, with help from the private sector. Major Chinese search engines filter content by keyword and remove taboo search results, blog providers remove politically sensitive posts, and cyber-cafes monitor Net usage by customers.

The government has the final word on what falls under the cyber-curtain. But China's online masses still have ways around the controls, such as using "proxy" servers that hide a site's true origins.

With the May Fourth anniversary quickly approaching, the Internet is abuzz with rumors of more anti-Japan demonstrations in the works.

China's cyber-police will be on the lookout for any online outcry.

"But if anyone can manage to mitigate such a risk, it is no doubt the Chinese," says Palfrey.

"The state's abilities in terms of content control online -- through a mixture of methods -- should not be underestimated."

Nor should the passion of netizens who have acquired a taste for dissent. It won't be easy for China's angry, wired youths to lay down their keyboards.

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