The Chinese have been quick to embrace technology, with the result that the country has the largest Internet-surfing and cellphone-wielding populations in the world.
However, whenever there has been a whiff of anti-establishment sentiments being propagated by these technologies, the government authorities haven't hesitated in cracking down. (See: China surpasses the US with highest internet users in the world)
Now, the latest target of their attentions seems to be Apple's iTunes – the largest music store in the world, with a pro-Tibet album cited as a possible cause.
Coming at the same time when the eyes of the world are on the country due to the Olympics, this has the potential of snowballing into a major issue. (See: Apple's iTunes surpasses Wal-Mart as biggest US music seller)
The iTunes download site has been unavailable for many users within China in the past week, but Apple's Beijing-based spokeswoman Huang Yuna said she didn't know why music fans were unable to log on.
"We've noticed the problem. It's true that users may fail to log in to iTunes store right now," she said, "We are still investigating.'' However, she wouldn't confirm if the company was in contact with Chinese authorities.
In online forums, iTunes users complained they had been unable to download music since Monday. That was a day after the Art of Peace Foundation announced the release of "Songs for Tibet," with music by Sting, Alanis Morissette, Garbage and others, and a 15-minute talk by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader.
Michael Wohl, executive director of the New York City-based group, said he believed the album was the reason for the iTunes interruption, though he had no proof. "We issued a release saying that over 40 (Olympic) athletes downloaded the album in an act of solidarity, and that's what triggered it. Then everything got blocked," he said.
Wohl said his group contacted Olympians ahead of the games and offered free copies of the 20-song album. He said those who downloaded it included competitors from the US, Canada, Britain, Spain, France and Australia.
Most got the album before entering China, but "some in Beijing did download, and I think that's what spooked the Chinese government," Wohl said. Sun Weide, a spokesman for the Beijing Olympic organisers said he did not know about the iTunes blockage. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman also declined to comment.
The review page of the album also became the site for a vicious exchange between pro-Tibet netizens and Chinese nationalists. More than 400 posts were recorded on the page before it was taken down, with one post saying: "The Tibetan culture has been massacred by the oppressive Chinese government."