Beijing city officials are being trained to use China's fast-growing social media scene in the latest government move to guide and monitor public opinion, state media said Thursday.

The city's Communist Party school is offering the training to "bureau-level leading cadres" to help "leaders catch up with Internet currents", the Legal Evening News said.

The training will "raise cadres' understanding of information dissemination, and social and public sentiment in order to better respond to sudden crises," it said.

Chinese blogs, chat rooms and other sites have become lively outlets for expression in a country where traditional media are tightly controlled and where activists say freedom of speech is curtailed.

In particular, Twitter-like micro-blogging sites have grown fast, with tens of millions of people believed to have opened accounts in the past year alone.

The training at the Beijing party school -- which is separate from the Communist Party's national-level school, also based in Beijing -- will focus on micro-blogging, the news report said.

It will include "what is micro-blogging; how to browse blogs and micro-blogs; what is MSN all about; which BBS (bulletin board system) sites and posts are most popular; and which search engines to use to find hot topics in society".

These subjects "have all become knowledge that leaders must cram on," it said. It lauded leaders who have "acted to set up their own blogs and issued blog entries".

China operates a vast censorship system, deleting Web content considered a possible challenge to the ruling Communist Party, such as mentions of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded last week to jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo.

But it has also worked to stay ahead of the curve by harnessing online and social media as propaganda tools.

Some local governments have set up micro-blog accounts to get their message out, and the central government recently set up a website for citizens to express their views to the nation's top leaders.

Chinese web users frequently refer to the "50 cent army", rumoured to be a group of freelance propagandists who post pro-Communist Party entries on blogs and websites, posing as ordinary members of the public.