As part of the Time 100 issue (Bush, no; Borat, yes!), I was asked to profile one of this year's 100: Zeng Jinyan, the 22-year old dissident Chinese blogger whose writing has offered us an intimate glimpse into her country as it teeters between openness and oppression en route to its worldwide coming out party (aka the 2008 Summer Olympics).
Zeng Jinyan is the online progeny of Wang Wei Lin, the protester who blocked a column of advancing tanks during the Tiananmen Uprising in 1989. When Zeng's husband, AIDS and environmental activist Hu Jia, was taken into custody and detained by the Chinese government without any legal proceedings last year, Zeng, who is now 22, started a blog detailing her experiences and the oppressive activities of the country's secret police. Since then, her blog has been blocked in China, and she and her husband have been harassed, intimidated, and subjected to round-the-clock surveillance. But she has steadfastly continued to blog, attracting an international audience with her sardonic style -- and especially her courage ("These people are like flies after a piece of meat," she wrote of the "goons" who are constantly watching her.)
She is Tiananmen 2.0.
Blogs are by nature very personal -- an intimate, often ferocious expression of the blogger's passions. This intimacy creates an unusually close bond between blogger and reader. It's why I feel so connected to Zeng, even though we live on opposite sides of the world and have never met -- or even spoken to each other. But her words have spoken to me -- and thousands of others -- reminding us that terms such as freedom, valor, and sacrifice are not just rhetoric to be tossed into a campaign stump speech, like spice added to a meal to give it an extra little kick.
China has an estimated eight million regular bloggers, 17.5 million who blog occasionally, and 70 million people who read blogs. As the struggle for justice, openness, democracy, and human rights plays out in China, Zeng Jinyan is a powerful dissident voice showing the way to the country's netizens.
By blogging truth to power she is hopefully planting the seeds of a new -- and true -- cultural revolution. Let a thousand blogs bloom.