Home Life Website forces China's officials to listen to fans
Website forces China's officials to listen to fans PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 31 January 2009 10:51
Chinese officials, not normally known for star appeal, are being thrust into the spotlight on a website catering to their fans.

Claiming to be the first fan site for local politicians, the website, titled Fans Circle for Officials of the People's Republic of China (www. zhongguofans.com), is raising the profiles of little-known officials.

Unlike the site exclusively created for President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao last September, this has much broader coverage with pages dedicated to top leaders from three provinces and five cities.

"I hope it can become a platform for the public to freely exchange ideas with the governments," says Yang Yunhe, founder of the site.

A former factory hand and restaurant worker Yang, 33, runs a business that puts advertising on bicycles. He says he knows too well how people toiling at the foot of the social ladder are frustrated by the scant channels of communication to those in authority.

But the rise of the Internet provided him with an opportunity to help people speak out.

In April last year, he launched a fan site solely for Wu Weirong, the Communist Party chief of Yiwu City, the world's largest small commodities market located in east China's Zhejiang Province.

But four days later, Yang was invited to the publicity office of the local government, where he was politely told the fan site thing was unsuitable for a low-key cadre like Wu, so he closed it down.

"It could have caused misunderstanding, as some might think the official himself established the site for his own benefit," a spokesman for Yiwu government told Xinhua.
However, Yang's idea was revived in September when the People'sDaily, the Communist Party's flagship newspaper, initiated the "Jin and Bao Fan Zone" dedicated to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao on its website.

Yang immediately started rebuilding his website, listing more officials from other cities and provinces. But with an investment of less than 4,000 yuan (588 U.S. dollars), the site broke down due to poor technical support and growing traffic. Normal operation resumed in December.

Among the first to have fan pages on Yang's website were the Party chiefs of Guangdong, Shaanxi and Zhejiang provinces.

Shaanxi is Yang's home province, Guangdong is the spearhead of China's reform and opening up drive, and Zhejiang is flush with private enterprise.

With greater "political tolerance", Guangdong and Zhejiang are more open to innovation and accepting of the site, he says.

Other officials include Party chiefs of Yiwu, Wenzhou, and Jinhua cities from Zhejiang Province, and Shaanxi's Ankang City. For example, Yiwu City's Party chief Wu Weirong was selected because he encourages reform and innovation during development of the local economy.

Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has also been given a fan page.

Fans leave laudatory messages for their adored officials, upload pictures, discuss hot topics and post articles on political and social issues.

Wang Yang, Party chief of Guangdong known for his creative reform ideas and active participation in online forums, has won the most popularity. Fans nickname him as "Wang Shuai" (Handsome Wang) and depict him as "courageous and capable", leaving messages to support his reforms.
Yang has launched a competition for the best cartoon image of Wang, offering a first prize of 5,000 yuan (735 U.S. dollars).

"I don't mean to mock the officials, but to encourage people to treat officials as ordinary people," says Yang.

One site aficionado nicknamed "Gentleman Huachuan", from Zhejiang Province, tells Xinhua he learned of the website from another online forum.

"I like its truth-telling style," he says, adding that he had posted occasional articles concerning people's livelihoods.

In addition to expressing their admiration, fans also contribute ideas for local development, raise issues vital to the public's interest and offer suggestions for improving efficiency and transparency.

An official from Yiwu's press office says it is paying close attention to the site. "With the Internet's rapid development, more communication channels between the government and the public are emerging, and the government will embrace them with an open attitude."

China had 298 million Internet users by the end of 2008, of whom 91 percent had the access to broadband, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

Last year saw a peak in social and political activity on the Internet.

In June, President Hu visited Qiangguo Forum, a virtual forum organized by the People's Daily, and chatted with the public. Premier Wen also said that he used the Internet to listen to public opinions and suggestions.

Meanwhile, Internet vigilantes, known as "human flesh search engines", hunted down a string of government officials, including the deputy head of Shenzhen's marine affairs bureau, who allegedly tried to molest a teenage girl, and the director of Nanjing's property bureau, who misused public funds to buy luxury goods.

"We ordinary people cannot escape from taking responsibility if the government goes wrong," says Yang. "We shall push the government to make changes."

His plans to expand the site to include officials from 500 cities, as his is inundated with requests from other places. He aims to make it more influential than the website of Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, a Chinese-language station that is more popular on the mainland than elsewhere around the globe. But Yang admits he is short of funds.

"If opinions and suggestions raised by the public are reasonable and well intended, they will have a positive impact on the government," says Professor Zhang. "The government may use them as a mirror with which they can realize and rectify defects."
 
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