China star beats Oprah with five mln microblog fans

Actress Yao Chen on Friday became the first Chinese microblogger with five million followers, even more than US mega-celeb Oprah Winfrey - underlining the rapid growth of the platform in China.

Yao, a popular television actress, is the most-followed person on the microblog service of Chinese portal Sina, which is far and away China's leader, claiming more than 50 million users.

On Friday the number of people following Yao's musings on life and celebrity ticked past five million, prompting Sina to issue a statement declaring her the "Queen of the microblog".

Earlier in the week, she passed Winfrey's number of Twitter followers. The US talk show diva had 4,953,914 followers as of Friday, according to Twitter.

Winfrey is at 10th place on the list of most-followed people on Twitter, which is officially blocked in China but accessible via proxy server.

Yao, 31, passed five million on Friday afternoon and just three hours later she had added 10,000 more.

Sina's statement attributed Yao's microblog popularity to her candid and self-effacing postings on her life.

China's government blocked Twitter in 2009 after authorities alleged social-networking services were being used to fan ethnic violence in mainly Muslim northwestern China.

China's aggressive censors block a range of high-profile foreign Internet services and websites including YouTube, Facebook and others.

However, since the blocking of Twitter, several Chinese clones led by Sina have filled the void and drawn an enthusiastic following from China's huge population of web users, the world's largest at 457 million.

Users have seized on micro-blogging as a new avenue for mass expression in a country whose Internet and other media are tightly controlled by a wary Communist Party.

But experts say micro-blogging services exercise self-policing of sensitive topics such as human rights to avoid being shut down.

Sina said in November its microblog service had 50 million registered users after just 14 months of operation - up from 10 million in April.

The number of Twitter users is estimated at more than 200 million.

The most-followed person on Twitter is pop icon Lady Gaga with 7.8 million, while US President Barack Obama is back in fourth with 6.4 million.

The rest of the Twitter top ten is populated by US entertainment personalities such as teen pop idol Justin Bieber at number two, singer Britney Spears at number three, and actor Ashton Kutcher at number five.

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