Unlike all previous emergencies, after the worst earthquake in more than five decades jolted Sichuan on May 12, the Chinese nation was able to follow the pain of victims and the progress of relief efforts from time to time thanks not only to media organizations but also a sea of blogs and podcasts. To a great extent, netizens' on-the-spot records became the major source of information about the situation in affected areas in the first 24 hours of the temblor.
One week after the Wenchuan earthquake, quake-themed posts on China's four largest blog sites totaled 2.33 million, with more than 2.36 billion visits and 613.2 billion comments. There were also nearly 6,000 home videos available on eight major news portals. After years of leap-forward development, China's bloggers and podcasters had launched a Web 2.0-style disaster relief campaign.
The year 2002 marked the debut of blogging in China. By the end of November 2007, the number of bloggers in the country had exceeded 47 million, meaning that one of every 30 Chinese citizens or four netizens was writing his or her own Web log. Until recently, seven bloggers at sina.com.cn, China's largest blogging service provider, have accumulated more than 100 million visits to their posts, while blogs with hits topping the 10 million mark amounted to more than 200. Since the topics of blogs cover almost all fields of life-state administration, economy, entertainment, sports, tourism and national defense, they are becoming an increasingly important channel of news and views.
Podcasting, which emerged at the end of 2004 in China with the launch of the first site in this regard, is also gaining popularity at a speed faster than that of any other Web service. According to official statistics, there were more than 200 podcasting sites in China in 2006, registering more than 10 million podcasters and having a viewership of 76 million. A lot of emergencies, news and gossips have been recorded live and made known to the public by home videos posted on the Internet. Prominent examples in recent years include those about the infidelity of a famous TV sport anchorman, which was brought to light by his wife at a public gathering, and a pet cat being tortured by a cruel man.
Due to the large number of users and wide coverage, blogs and podcasts have also become major outlets of public opinion. Many bloggers and podcasters use their posts to discuss public affairs, raise suggestions and air complaints. At the same time, a growing number of officials have opened blogs to do real-time communication with the public, which is widely hailed as a new way of government transparency.
Despite this, to many Chinese people, blogs and podcasts are still mainly used for entertaining themselves. For example, few scholars, particularly top scientists, are found sharing their knowledge and thoughts via blogging and podcasting. Seeing the significant role blogs and podcasts have played in post-Wenchuan quake relief and reconstruction, it is expected that more professionals will in future use this new form of mass communications to provide their ideas and views.