August 13, 2007

Cyber Opinion in China

Reports on monitoring and censorship of Chinese internet content, particularly news and blogs, are familiar to westerners. We are less familiar with editorials like this one from the Beijing News, which suggest a further stage of evolution of cyber opinion in China:

Wang Yang, the Party chief of Chongqing recently e-mailed a netizen (China’s common name for internet users) twice, inviting him to meet to consult about the urban development of Chongqing. The municipal government of Chongqing sent letters to the public, soliciting advice on the construction of a pilot zone.

What the media wanted to highlight is that it was the netizen the Party chief met since Wang Yang resorted to the Internet. However, this type of “news” already occurred many years ago. Yu Youjun, then mayor of Shenzhen, met with a netizen, who wrote a renowned cyber article entitled “Shenzhen, Who Abandoned You?” in January, 2003.

Four years ago, netizens still belonged to the elite of society and the way Yu Youjun responded to the article was somewhat pioneering. In today’s society, we should regard the meeting of a major with a netizen as a common interaction between officials and citizens, as the country has 162 million netizens, ranking the second largest in the world in terms of number, and cyber opinion has already become a regular channel for people to express their opinions.

As more and more people get online, cyber opinion will get more mature and more diversified. The meeting between a mayor and a netizen should be deemed as a must for a healthy political ecology.

But the media still reported the meeting as news and highlighted the identity of the “netizen” instead of “citizen”, which indicated that in some places, public opinion doesn’t attract enough attention from officials and the new type of official-citizen interaction has not been realized. We are expecting that some day the meeting of a mayor with a netizen will no longer be reported as news.