"History is not always made by the big potatoes. It can also be made by small ones," a Chinese netizen said.
"Ghost 2009" is a 30-year-old IT person in the real world who plans to marry his fiancee next year; but on the Internet he is an anti-corruption "hero".
In late November, "Ghost 2009" used the Internet to expose officials abusing public funds on overseas trips to Las Vegas and Niagara Falls.
He posted on a major Chinese forum photos of documents and receipts which he chanced upon on a subway in Shanghai, proving officials from two cities in Zhejiang Province and Jiangxi Province spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in April on overseas sightseeing tours disguised as study trips.
The post caused an uproar among netizens, before an over-cautious message board editor took fright and deleted it. The story was picked up by other websites and was reported on a China Central TV news program. Now officials involved have been investigated, punished and ordered to repay the bills.
He is just one of the 290 million Chinese netizens who took an active part in the country's big events of 2008, and who on occasion made a difference.
Experts said big events such as the May 12 Earthquake and the Beijing Olympics had given Chinese netizens with a rare chance to use their collective power to play positive roles.
"This year interaction on the Internet is the most distinguishing feature of Chinese citizens' participation in 'democratic' politics, and netizens have become a constructive force in social and public affairs in the country," said Professor Yu Hai, a sociologist from Shanghai-based Fudan University.
During the Beijing Olympics overseas torch relay in March and April, Chinese netizens strongly condemned Tibetan separatists' disruption of the relay during its London, Paris and San Francisco legs. They also launched campaigns to donate national flags to compatriots overseas.
Netizens' activities provoked by the disruptions showed the world that the Chinese government and its people appeared to be on the same side, and they were "the most powerful voices besides the government," said Professor Yu.
And after the May 12 Sichuan earthquake, Chinese netizens from home and abroad were engaged in the post-quake relief work, including distributing appeals for online donations, uploading images of quake-hit towns and collecting donations.
In the relief work netizens were an indispensable force, alongside the government, media and volunteers, Professor Yu said.
Ying Zheng, a 27-year-old Internet company employee in Shanghai, launched a website called "Timely Rain" soon after the earthquake to provide an information delivery platform for supply and demand in the quake-hit areas.
"Many volunteers and NGOs in the quake-hit areas knew what people there needed most and they posted messages on my website, so that people would offer help in an efficient way," said Ying.
Ying told Xinhua he was an active netizen surfing for news, voting online and leaving messages on BBS all the time, "no controversy is the most terrible thing. It's big progress to have an open platform for our ordinary people now."
Chinese netizens started expressing opinions on public affairs in 2003, and they became more active as their voices were heard by policy makers. Netizens devoted a lot of time and wisdom to making suggestions and exposing falsehood in 2008, said Professor Yu.
In 2008, Chinese people celebrated for the first time official one-day holidays for the three traditional festivals of Tomb-Sweeping Day, Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival, thanks to thousands of netizens who voted to add them into the nation's official holiday schedule.
And it was netizens who doubted first when a farmer named Zhou Zhenglong from northwest China's Shaanxi Province claimed he took photos of a tiger subspecies believed extinct in the wild in China.
Netizens found an old Lunar New Year poster showing a tiger which looked exactly the same as Zhou's photo, and Zhou was arrested after police found at his house an old tiger poster and a wooden model of a tiger paw.
In November, Zhou was sentenced to two and a half years in prison with a three-year reprieve, and 13 government staff in Shaanxi were also sacked or reprimanded.
Now the big role of Chinese netizens seems to have been enhanced after President Hu Jintao chatted online with netizens for the first time in June at people.com.cn. Hu said he got to know people's concerns through netizens.
However, netizens' vigor courted controversy. For example, the 'human flesh search engine' -- thousands of netizens' digging out every detail of a person caught in an untoward situation -- was popular among Chinese netizens.
Netizens said they were angered and hoped to punish bad people through exposing their personal information, while some people argued that it was an invasion of privacy.
Wang Fei, whose wife killed herself in December of last year after discovering Wang was having an affair, sued websites and netizens for posting his deceased wife's blog and his personal information.
Wang said the 'human flesh search' hampered his normal life as he had lost his job, and all his friends and colleagues had known about his disloyalty.
Last week, a Chinese website and a netizen were ordered by a Beijing court to compensate 8,000 yuan (1,200 U.S. dollars) to the plaintiff. It has been the first court case of 'human flesh search' in China.
Experts also warned of hidden dangers for netizens in combating corruption and exposing scandals.
"The Internet is the most convenient vent for the voices of the common people now. But there's still much to be desired in the legal system and operation of grassroots democracy," said Professor Yu.
"Ghost 2009" was clever. He did not accept any interviews after the scandal was exposed, except one from a China Youth Daily reporter via a temporary phone number and a temporary email address. The reporter said "Ghost 2009" wanted to keep his identity a secret to avoid possible retaliation.
According to Professor Yu Chinese netizens were becoming more and more sensible, and it has become common for traditional media to interact with netizens, "sometimes netizens start a topic, and newspapers and TV programs will follow up."