Chinese netizens are posting thousands of messages to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao — inviting Hu for hotpot, offering to buy new shoes for Wen — on an official forum inviting citizens to write to the elusive Politburo.
‘Direct line to Zhongnanhai,’ a new online message board launched by the Communist Party’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, seeks to make citizens feel closer to the top leadership governing China from Zhongnanhai, a heavily guarded crimson walled imperial compound in Beijing that is barred to the public.
The leadership has not posted replies on the message board that hopes to soften its image. Beijing will monitor it to gauge the public pulse on its policies to control inflation, housing prices, corruption, food safety and education. “General Secretary Hu, I hope you can give attention to skyrocketing housing prices in second or third tier cities,” said a post. Another vented that he can’t afford a wife.
A think tank said this week that China’s over 400 million netizens are also the most ‘dynamic’ actors emerging on the margins of Beijing’s foreign policy making decisions especially on topics such as Tibet.
“The explosion of new outlets for expression... does not mean Chinese people enjoy freedom of expression,’’ said the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in a report. The message board lists instructions on what netizens can’t discuss, like state secrets and comments that undermine social stability or national policy on religion.
The SIPRI paper said Chinese Internet is a place for citizens to ‘let out steam’. It noted the reported use of a ‘fifty cent army’ of bloggers that authorities are said to pay per Internet posting to steer chats to official positions. It highlighted Beijing’s attempts to control public opinion during the Google standoff and tension with US when academicians were urged to stay silent or toe the government line. “Sometimes, the party’s publicity department sends two-three media faxes a day,’’ said SIPRI China director Linda Jakobson in Beijing this week. “There are intricate rules on what you can’t report.’’ And what you can’t comment on.