Chinese authorities have moved to censor news about the Delhi gang rape and ensuing protests after the incident triggered a heated debate online between State media outlets and pro-democracy voices.

The incident and the protests in New Delhi in recent days have received wide attention in China. While the brutal attack was initially highlighted by Communist Party-run outlets as indicative of the failures of India’s democratic system to ensure stability, the following protests in New Delhi triggered calls from pro-reform bloggers for the Chinese government to learn from India and to allow the public to express its voice.

The rape case was one of the most discussed topics in Chinese microblogs over the past week, prompting thousands of posts and comments. By Sunday, however, the authorities appeared to move to limit the debate: on Monday, a search for the topic triggered a message on Sina Weibo – a popular Twitter-equivalent used by more than 300 million people – saying the results could not be displayed according to regulations. The message is usually seen as an indicator of a topic being censored by the authorities.

Hu Xijin, controversial editor of the nationalistic party-run Global Times, argued last week in a widely criticised message to his three million followers on Weibo that the case had shown the limits of rule of law in a democracy. “For a backward society, no law can help,” he said. “India calls itself the world’s biggest democratic State, but it is also one of the most disorderly. In the 1960s, China and India had the same level of development, but now China’s GDP is three times India’s.”

Another commentary published in the newspaper on Monday echoed Mr. Hu’s views, describing India as “an inefficient and unequal democracy.” “The Indian democratic system seemingly can’t solve these problems but provides legitimacy for [rulers]. India’s democracy is now manipulated by a small number of elite and interest groups … Efficient democracy means more than electoral politics.”

That Communist Party media outlets and academics often point to India’s “disorderliness” as an outcome of the democratic system and to justify one-party rule is a sore point among many liberal Chinese who are pushing for democratic reforms.

The government-run Beijing Youth Daily in a Weibo message said “the current problem of India is fundamentally the problem of Indian democracy, which is reflected on the weak regime and the invalid social management.”

One Internet user in northeastern Jilin responded that “at least India allows protest. If such things happen in China, will we have a large scale protest?” Feng Zetang, a blogger in Guangzhou, added, referring to a case in Henan last year where local officials were found to have raped school students: “Chinese officials harass female children; however the government could not care less.”

Bruce Wang, another microblogger, wrote that “China Central Television [the official channel] intensively reports the rape case in India. But please don’t turn a blind eye to our own country’s sexual harassment of children!”

Kai-Fu Lee, former founding president of Google China, who has 24 million followers on Weibo and maintains a hugely popular blog, wrote that “the system [in India] allows the people to take to the street and to expose the scar, so the government has to face it squarely”.

“If the scar is hid firmly,” he added, cryptically, “it will instead fester and become inflamed, and by that time, it would be too late to face it.”

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