China’s President “Chats” With Citizens Online

China’s President Hu Jintao, who usually appears stiff and restrained in public, surprised many by talking to the Chinese public in an Internet chat room Friday morning.

The online chat room of People.com.cn bustled with excitement when the host unexpectedly announced in a message titled ” President Hu Jintao will come to talk to us soon”.

“Are you kidding us?” asked a person named Old Hawk.

The host didn’t reply, but led the 66-year-old Hu to sit in front of a computer screen where he could see messages popping up into the online chat room. Judging from a video clip recorded at that time, it seemed that Hu was on an official visit to the newsroom of People’s Daily Friday morning, accompanied by a squad of the country’s top officials.

Hu, in a white shirt without a tie, stared at the screen for a few seconds. He seemed to be reading the posted messages. But he didn’t approach the keyboard to respond. Instead, the forum host selected a few messages and read to him.

There was a message titled “Boss Hu, do you use the Internet often?”

The host read the question to Hu, but replaced “Boss Hu” with “General Secretary Hu.”

Hu paused for a while at the question, and then talked to a microphone connected with the computer.

“Although I am very busy and I do not have the time to use the Internet everyday, I try to spare some time to do it. I want to say that this online forum of People.com.cn is one of the Web sites I visit often.”

Hundreds of online messages were soon sent to Hu by ordinary Chinese citizens, who rarely have a chance to directly communicate with their top government leaders.

Some simply remarked, “It is a good day today!” “Brother Hu, you are great!”

Some inquired about Hu’s life, “What do you usually read online?”; “Have you ever posted articles on Internet forums? Which username do you use?”; “Which sports do you like?”

Some complained, “Old Hu, lots of government money has been wasted by officials on feasts. Why don’t you stop it?” “Why haven’t our salaries increased while the prices of everything else are skyrocketing?”; “The stock market and housing market are collapsing. It is hard to find a job…”

Some asked about policy and political issues, including some tricky ones: “What do you think of Taiwan’s democratization?” ; “How would you deal with wrong but well-intentioned opinions on the Internet?”

The host just picked two other questions to read to Hu:

“General Secretary, another Internet user named Happy Three, asked you what you usually read on the Internet,” the host said.

“When I use the Internet, I like reading domestic and international news stories. Secondly, I want also to know from the Internet what people care about and what their views are. Thirdly, I hope to know what kind of ideas and suggestions Internet users have for the work of the Party and the Government,” Hu answered amiably.

“Little Fire Dragon asked whether you could see the ideas and suggestions posted on the chatroom,” the host said.

“We care a lot about Internet users’ ideas and advice. We put the interest of our citizens first and rule the country for their interest. So we have to listen to the people’s opinions when we do our work or make decisions. The Internet is an important channel for us to understand and collect public opinions,” Hu answered.

The host then said that the talk had to end because Hu needed to to proceed to other events.

Hu made his final remarks to the people in the Internet chat room, promising to read their messages carefully in the future.

“Because of time limits, I can not talk more to you today. But I will read and study carefully the messages you have just sent to me. Also, I want to take this opportunity to wish you all good health, successful jobs, and happy families. Thanks!”

Watch the video below for the “chat” online:

The English transcript via People’s Daily is here. Read also “‘Authoritarian Deliberation’ on the Chinese Internet” by Rebecca MacKinnon.