Virtual stairway of hope to the Chinese echelon?
UPDATE 10 Feb 2013:
Turns out the mystery blogger is a migrant worker called Zhang Hongming. See AP Exclusive: Mysterious China Blogger Comes Out
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Is China’s mystery blogger Xi Jinping himself?
By Calum MacLeod,
Source – USA TODAY, published February 7, 2013
PBEIJING – A mystery blogger who appears to have close access to the daily activities of China’s new leader may be the leader himself, China watchers say.
The blog “Study Xi Fans Group” has posted pictures of Communist Party Secretary General Xi Jinping’s trip to northwest China along with detailed updates about his busy schedule.
To Americans who are used to the flood of minutiae issued by the White House about President Obama, similar outpourings from China’s government may seem like nothing unusual, but in China, a close-up look at the leader of an organization long steeped in secrecy is a revelation all by itself. The activities of the party elite are normally reported in a carefully scripted manner, often delayed by a few days, by the state-run media.
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The fawning and somewhat dull reporting on the blog is raising speculation on the Internet that China’s leader, or rather his aides or bodyguards, are behind the accounts.
The anonymous blogger denied the rumors Tuesday.
“I’m not a party member, nor a government official, nor do I have anything to do with General Secretary Xi’s team,” said a statement on the blog, which appears on the government sanctioned website used for Twitter-like postings.
The statement noted that other leaders such as Obama and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, “all have their fan groups, it’s my right to be a fan of who I want.”
Media analyst Jeremy Goldkorn doesn’t buy that explanation.
“My instinct says it’s something fake, like most things are here. Somebody in or close to the system is doing it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Xi’s people are doing it,” said Goldkorn, whose “Danwei” website translates Chinese media articles into English.
Obama’s official Twitter account has almost 27 million followers. In China, the ruling Communist Party blocks Twitter but similar sites that allow people to post messages and opinions have grown hugely popular.
Xi employs no such social media tools officially. “Study Xi Fans Group” appears on Sina Weibo, which is among the most widely used sites in China and one that complies with government censorship rules. The fan group’s followers have more than tripled in recent days to over 465,000.
The immediacy of the postings on the site even caused the state-controlled national broadcaster CCTV to remark on its microblog that “Study Xi Fans Group” is “quicker and closer than us.”
Some Chinese Internet users are hopeful that the blog account is a trial run for Xi and other leaders to launch their own microblogs, which may help make them more responsive to complaints or concerns of average citizens. China has 564 million Internet users and 309 million microblogging accounts, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.
Media analysts in Beijing say that the party’s distaste for transparency runs too deep.
The Communist Party’s “culture of secrecy” and tight information controls make opening a microblog “a highly risky thing for China’s leaders,” said Hu Yong, an Internet and new media expert at Peking University.
“Usually they are faceless bureaucrats, as if you stand out too much your colleagues and other officials will take a different look at you, and speculate what you would with all that personal exposure,” he said.
Hu and others say the Internet remains too spontaneous and scandalous for leaders to risk entering what is the freest place of expression in China. That is true even though China’s Internet is heavily censored and Internet firms themselves must be careful not to agitate the government too much if they wish to keep their business licences.
There is evidence that Xi is online.
The microblog was founded in November after Xi took over. If it really represents Xi’s team making its foray into weibo, or microblogging, lawyer Li Jinsong wrote that it would overtake actress Yao Chen and writer Han Han to become the mainland’s most popular.
Some are taking a chance it is him, sending messages to the microblog asking for help addressing various injustices. In China people often fail to achieve satisfaction through the party-controlled courts and believe that traditional, state-run media ignores their plight.
The blog has responded to such requests by asking people to state their situation with clear detail.
China’s government is more transparent than before and strongly encourages departments to have a social media presence, said Goldkorn, “but it’s still not the style of China’s leaders to be transparent about what they’re doing, and that reticence extends to social media.”
China’s bookstores stock many biographies of foreign leaders such as Obama but shoppers will not find titles on their current leaders. The closest that Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao came to an online presence was the rare occasional Q&A at a state media website.
“If President Xi can have a weibo account or even Twitter, that would be a great leap forward for the leadership,” said Hu. “I deeply doubt this generation will do it,” he said, in reference to the “fifth generation” of party bosses since Mao Zedong, led by Xi, who is expected to serve for the next decade.