Keith Richburg, fellow at the Institute of Politics and China correspondent for The Washington Post from 2009-13, recalled his first trip to China in 1985 and said that the biggest difference between China then and now is the Internet. “The Internet has really changed everything,” he said at a Shorenstein Center event on Tuesday, “particularly the relationship between the Chinese government and the Chinese people.”
China has more than 500 million Internet users, and 300 million users on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, Richburg said. He listed several areas where he has observed Weibo and the Internet making an impact in Chinese society. For example, online fundraising sites have grown in popularity as people have become more trusting of private collection funds rather than official organizations or government programs.
The Internet has also been instrumental in exposing and even bringing down corrupt officials, said Richburg. Certain websites have investigated corruption in the Chinese government and presented their findings. As a result, Richburg said, the secret dealings of public servants is “no longer in the shadows – their faces and cases are now put out there in front of the public.”