A top Chinese government official has urged authorities to be "more forceful" in the way they manage the web, state media said, as Beijing tries to tighten online controls over fears of social unrest.
Wang Chen, head of the State Internet Information Office - a government body set up this year to supervise online content - also urged officials to use the web to "guide public opinion and promote positive social values".
"All regions and departments must... use more forceful and effective measures to strengthen the construction and management of cyber culture," he was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.
With more than half a billion Chinese now online, authorities in Beijing are concerned about the power of the internet to influence public opinion in a country that maintains tight controls on its traditional media outlets.
And as the nation's economy loses steam amid financial woes in Europe and the United States, China's leaders are increasingly fearful of social unrest.
Large-scale strikes have hit China in recent weeks, as workers resentful about low salaries or layoffs face off with employers juggling high costs and slowing exports - news that quickly spreads round the country via the web.
Leading internet firms have already been pressured to tighten their grip on the web, with propaganda chief Li Changchun, fifth in the Communist Party hierarchy, meeting the heads of China's main search engine Baidu in September.
That same month, the head of Sina said the web giant - owner of China's most popular Twitter-like microblogging service, or weibo, which has more than 200 million users - had set up "rumour-curbing teams", apparently in response to government pressure.
But still the internet has posed a huge challenge to government attempts to block content it deems politically sensitive through a censorship system known as the "Great Firewall".
The number of weibo users has more than trebled since the end of 2010, according to government data, and the speed with which they have taken off has made it impossible for censors to keep up.
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The end of the roll for shopping receipts
The first weekend of December kicked off the annual Christmas shopping season with retailers reporting business already picking up.
It seems that with the election out of the way and the World Cup safely stored in the NZ Rugby Union's trophy cabinet, people are in the mood for some Christmas spending.
Hamilton shoppers were out in force at the weekend, many making the most of the specials already on offer.
A spokeswoman for Westfield shopping malls said the rain in parts of the country meant a number of centres got lots of foot traffic.
"Indications are that people have realised that Christmas is only a few weeks away so they are out in force," she said.
Hamilton Central Business Association general manager Sandy Turner also reported a busy weekend of shopping.
"Things have started to pick up since last week and we're seeing a lot of people getting in early to pick up their Christmas gifts."
Hot items for shoppers this year were android smartphones, jewellery and arts and crafts, she said.
"Even our local watch-maker texted me at the weekend to say he was getting a lot of people coming in."
Ms Turner said the Christmas rush had started much earlier than in previous years.
"We're very influenced by the farming community and economy here in the Waikato. It's doing well so that ripples down to us," she said.
"There's a little bit more confidence and buoyancy within the community. The election's come and gone and a lot of people are happy and want to spend. Everyone was very cautious last year."
New Zealand Retailers Association chief executive John Albertson said nationwide, many retailers were getting droves of people through the door just under a month out from Christmas.
"New Zealanders traditionally leave it to the last minute. But yes, Christmas shopping has already started."
The Noel Leeming Group - which includes Bond & Bond stores - reported a surge in business in the past few weeks.
Chief executive John Journee said: "Christmas trading is going really well at the moment - slightly more than this time last year - and that's right around the country. We're doing well in the urban, rural and provincial areas."
Some of the most popular items among shoppers were eBook Readers - from $229 - tablet computers such as the iPad, smartphones and digital cameras.
Other top items included baking appliances such as mixers, food processors and coffee machines.
"TVs are still very popular also, but this year it's the one with internet connectivity that people are picking up. Thin screens are also popular.
"And a different one - remote-controlled helicopters. Those aren't for kids, more for big kids," Mr Journee said.
The Retailers Association has a word of advice for those waiting for Boxing Day and New Year bargains - don't.
Mr Albertson said that with many stores already offering great specials, now was the time to get in.
"There's enough good offers. My advice is to do your shopping now, using review information from Globalmediapro
In an unexpected twist, TVs are topping many Christmas shopping lists this year.
Wal-Mart says TVs are among the top gifts people are putting on layaway at its 3,000-plus U.S. stores during the holiday season. The Westinghouse 46-inch LCD HDTV that was on sale for half off at Target for $298 was a top seller during the start to the season last weekend. And some shops already have sold out of 55-inch Samsung LED TVs that were marked down by half to $1,099.