Rising Food Price Discontent Takes China's Microblogs by Storm
If you’re not familiar with them, microblogs in China are essentially the equivalent of Twitter tweets or Facebook status updates, about 140-character statements on what’s important in the world to the person writing. The difference being that unlike the Twitter or Facebook websites — which are blocked by China’s government — microblogs are readily accessible even as searching content is somewhat restricted.
According to Reuters, about “125 million Chinese people who have embraced online microblogs to gossip, rant and mobilize,” rely on them to communicate what is “often strongly worded opinion.” Among various government disapproved-of topics, users are willing to discuss the uprising in Egypt — often using code words and tangential references — in microblog content. This is true even though searches for Egypt result in the rather sternly-worded warning that due to “relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search results have not been shown.” It’s a powerful tool, and much like how social unrest in Egypt may have been spurred on by rapidly rising food prices, the Chinese citizenry is turning to microblogs to make similar complaints.
According to CNN/Money:
“Inflation in China has been on a tear lately, and Chinese consumers are feeling the pinch of rising food, energy and housing prices. ‘Fuel prices are rising, toll prices are higher, food prices are rising; but even if it’s expensive, we still have to eat!’ wrote Little Fu 01 on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
“Another user called Silent Insects writes: ‘I am so frustrated…prices rising prices rising prices rising.’ China’s consumer price index rose 4.9% in January, up slightly from 4.6% growth in December, according to data released by the Chinese government Tuesday morning. China’s rate far outpaces inflation in developed nations. Consumer prices rose a mere 1.5% in the United States in December.
“Chinese food prices alone rose a staggering 10.3%, up from a 9.6% pace in December. A Sina Weibo user called Fat Lady Bei posted, ‘One renminbi can buy a very small tomato or one cucumber. When I eat at the cafeteria, it’s more expensive, and the portion sizes are smaller. Are we going to have to be like Japan in the future and ration our portions?'”
The microblogging website and social network mentioned above, Weibo, is part of the growing Sina Corporation online media empire and the main stomping grounds of China’s rising food price critics. With a market cap of over $5 billion, Sina has been publicly-traded in the US since 2000 (NASDAQ:SINA). According to Fortune:
“Sina Weibo (pronounced Way-Boh, and meaning microblog in Chinese), only 18 months old, was the Internet phenomenon of China in 2010, reaching 50 million users by the end of October — and is likely fast approaching 100 million users now. By comparison, Twitter now stands at more than 200 million registered users globally.”
Weibo will be a company to watch in times of surging inflation, rising civil unrest, and growing importance for social media. Given the way microblogging content is formatted, it’s difficult censor, though probably not impossible. However, despite a persistent threat of being shutdown by the government for participating in the growth of festering public agitation, Weibo has at least one ace up its government-leniency sleeve… Sina’s former CEO, Mao Daolin, is now son-in-law to China’s President Hu Jintao.