China’s Wen Makes Internet Debut (Updated with Text)
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao joined the Internet craze Saturday as he chatted online with netizens for the first time, broaching issues as diverse as a shoe-throwing protest and corruption among officials.
The online discussion attracted thousands of questions from people in China and abroad, with some querying the amount he earned, how long he slept a day, and how much alcohol he could drink, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
But Wen chose not to answer those, focusing instead on the more serious issues of the economic crisis, China’s healthcare reform and the shoe-throwing incident that took place in Cambridge, Britain, this month.
“We need to promote transparency of government affairs and also need to make public officials’ assets,” [Wen Jiabao] said.
“Such a declaration system must be established and carried out so as to produce substantial results,” he said.
“It should be a major move to fight against corruption.” Wen said the most important thing in combating corruption is to establish a good system that can prevent power from being too centralized without restriction.
Over 150,000 questions were left on the Xinhua message board for the Premier. Topics ranged from questions on the global economy to how many hours the Premier sleeps a day. Xinhua has chosen a number of notable quotes from the Premier. The following is a very brief selection:
My mother always tells me that no matter whom you are speaking to, you must be honest and use your heart to talk.
Confidence is much more precious than gold or currency. I have said that everywhere from the very beginning of the financial crisis.
The people have given me power, and I don’t know how to pay [them] back, so I go all out to serve them.
To be frank, I don’t cook now. When my wife and I were young, [whoever] returned home from work earlier would cook.
See also past CDT posts on Wen Jiabao.
UPDATE: CDT’s Linjun Fan translated the following text from Wen’s conversation with netizens:
China.gov and Xinhua Net made a few statements on the influence of the Internet on China’s political life before Wen’s online talk started:
“The Internet has become an important tool for all levels of government officials in China to stay in touch with public opinions. The old ways of listening to briefings, reading documents, and visiting local areas have been increasingly challenged. In the meantime, more and more people in the country are using the Internet to express their opinions and participate in public and political issues.
“The total number of people using the Internet in China has exceeded 300 million as of January 2009. The number is increasing by 8 to 9 million each month. The total number of netizens in China increased by 42 percent according to statistics announced by China Internet Information Center. The top leadership in China has started to pay unprecendented attention to public opinions on the Internet since last year.”
Premier Wen said he wanted to have a sincere conversation with the public in his opening remarks:
Wen Jiabao: “Dear Netizens, I am very glad to talk with you on the Internet today, shortly before the beginning of the two national meetings. I have always believed that the public has the right to know what its government is doing and thinking about, and the right to criticize and make comments on government policies. The government needs also to seek people’s feedback and ideas in order to make sound policy decisions, and it should make administrative affairs public and decision-making democratic. This is the first time I communicate with the public through the Internet. Since it’s my first time, I am a little bit nervous. But I have always remembered the words my mother often told me — No matter whom you are talking to, be honest with them, and speak from your heart. She was diagnosed with cerebral thrombosis a few days ago, and has almost lost her eyesight. But I bear her words dearly in my heart. I think that this is a chance for me to talk to you from the bottom of my heart. I will be honest with you, tell you truthful information, and listen to your truthful voices.”
Wen claimed he was not an Internet novice.
“Actually I surf the Internet almost everyday. I spend half an hour to an hour online sometimes. I have learned from the Internet that people are asking many questions to the Premier recently, and the total number of questions has exceeded 500,000. I deeply feel that our nation is large and we are faced with many problems. I also feel deeply that it is difficult to play the role of the Premier of China, who needs to shoulder tremendous responsibilities. However, I want to repeat the old saying: When one is fully devoted to serving his nation, he wouldn’t care much about his personal interests; he wouldn’t choose to avoid problems or seek benefits. I have devoted my life to serving the people and will always do my best in the service. ”
A person who did not reveal his name asked a question on power and corruption, “Premier, I am a local disciplinary cadre. I think many government leaders and cadres have too much power right now. Plenty of corruption problems were caused by excessive power. What’s your opinion on the power of government officials? What do you think of the power in your own hands?
Wen answered, “Xinhua Net announced the result of a survey on public opinion a few days ago. It says that anti-corruption is the issue that netizens care most about. I thought long about it. Why does the public pay so much attention to anti-corruption while we are in the middle of dealing with the challenge of the financial crisis? I think that the three pillars that uphold a stable society are economic development, social justice and government integrity. Among the three, government integrity is critical. Because only a clean, efficient, and trustworthy government is able to promote economic development full-heartedly, as well as to implement a variety of measures to realize social justice.
I understand why the public cares about anti-corruption. It’s because they care about the foundation of our government. We want to build a pragmatic, efficient, clean, and trustworthy government. As for anti-corruption, I think the most important thing is to solve systemic problems. Only when we tackle the issue of excessively-concentrated and unchecked power, can we prevent corruption from happening at its origin.
“Many people have urged the government on the Internet to set up an assets declaration system for officials. I think this is a right suggestion, and it will be a significant measure in combating corruption. We have said that the government should try to make its affairs public, and it goes naturally that it should provide open information on officials’ property and income. We need to enact laws and establish a system to make it work effectively, and keep it in place for the long term. We are preparing for this task actively.
“As for myself, I have always believed that my power was given by the people. I was like every one of you in my thirties and fourties. (I didn’t hold a public office). I might still have been running around with a hammer to study geology in remote mountains, if China didn’t start the Reform and Opening policies. It was the people who gave me the power. …Thus I am trying to do my best to serve you.” [*Note: Wen worked as a geologist for more than a decade before he became an administrator at a local government department in the early 1980s.]
A netizen nicknamed “Golden Beans Silver Beans” asked a question on equality: “Premier Wen, when my friends and colleagues get together, we often talk about the problem of the huge income gap between employees of different industries. Those who work for monopolized industries earn very high salaries. It makes many people feel pressured and uneasy. Has the government ever thought about solving this problem?
Wen answered, “What you said is true. Currently we are faced with many problems due to unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable economic and social development. The most important ones are gaps between different regions, between the cities and the rural areas, and between different income groups. A fair society should make sure all its members are able to share the benefits of reform and development.
“I have been reading The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith recently. He actually talked about two invisible hands; one is the market, the other is ethics. A society is bound to be unstable if only a small number of people possess wealth for a long time, while a majority of its members are impoverished. Thus we are very concerned about the gap between the rich and the poor.
“However, I have to talk about another aspect of the issue. We are not able to help people get rid of poverty if the society is stagnant, however hard we try to be fair. We can fundamentally relieve difficulties for people only when the economy keeps making progress. We must continue economic and social development, and at the same time, gradually reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. This is our goal.”
A farmer nicknamed Passerby asked about road construction in his village, “Hello, Premier, roads to other villages have all been completed, but the road to my village is muddy on raining days and dusty on sunny days. Can the Government give us some money to build a better road? I hope you could see this message. I am talking about the road to Datian village, Chenggu County of Shaanxi province.”
Wen answered, “Indeed the ‘Three Rural Issues’ are the basis of China’s economic development. The Party and the Government have been trying to address them for many years. We put the rural issues at the top of the list of our work. We are not just talking about it, but are taking concrete actions. We have made new policies to bring real benefits to farmers in recent years. For instance, we abolished the agricultural tax, which had existed in China for thousands of years. We first implemented the Two Waivers and One Subsidy policy in rural areas, thus families don’t pay tuition or fees for their school children anymore. We have also established a cooperative medicare system in the countryside. Now when farmers go to see a doctor in their town, or get treatment at bigger hospitals in the cities when they suffer major illnesses, they could get a certain percentage of reimbursement from the fund, ranging from 30 percent to 50 percent.
“However, anyone who frequently visits China’s rural areas would feel that the gap between our villages and cities is still huge. There are many images of rural poverty in my mind. I often tell my colleagues that we don’t need to be timid in helping people in the rural areas, because the gap between the urban and the rural areas is too wide. Our farmers are hard-working and content people. They grow crops and increase yields. They make significant contributions to urban residents and the whole nation. China’s grain production has been increasing for the past five years in a row, and it hit a record high last year. Those achievements are all made by the farmers.
“Therefore, we are determined to increase subsidies to farmers. First, we will build infrastructure in the rural areas, including improving village roads which the netizen has asked about. This is an important part of the ten major measures in our economic stimulus package. Second, we will continue to increase direct subsidies to farmers. The total amount was 103 billion RMB last year. It will increase to 120 billion RMB this year. Third, we will invest 40 billion RMB to help farmers purchase electronic appliances and motor vehicles. Fourth, we will increase grain prices considerably. The grain prices have been marketized. But we will carry out a minimum-price purchase policy to protect farmers, in case international grain prices drop…. All these measures will help to increase farmers’ income.”
A netizen nicknamed “Be A Good Student Everyday” asked, “Hello, Premier, I feel that we Chinese don’t know our traditional culture well. Can we have a “National Reading Day” and call on the whole nation to read books and carry forward Chinese traditional culture?”
Wen answered, “Yes, I agree. I don’t know whether this suggestion came from a child or from an elderly person. But I totally agree with what he said. We Chinese people have a 5,000-year-long history and rich cultural heritage, which we should inherit and carry forward.
“Needless to say, we need to learn about and absorb the advanced cultures in the world, but we can not have a good understanding of the world if we don’t even know our own cultural heritage well. Therefore, I want to encourage everybody in the country to read books. I will be very glad to see people have a book in their hand on subways, because I have always believed that knowledge can not only give people power, but also security and happiness. Please read more books. This is my hope.”
A person nicknamed “Netizens Association” said, “Hello Premier, I am deeply moved by your words. I think the direct communication between you and the netizens are very good. Will you engage in such communication regularly in future? Will you encourage all levels of local government officials to communicate with netizens in this way?”
Wen answered, “I have been looking forward to communicating with netizens. I think I’ve got to hear your opinions and ideas, and you’ve learned about government policies through this conversation. A People’s Government should be a government that is connected with the public. There are a variety of ways for the government to reach the public, but it is a very good way of communication using the modern Internet. I want to say it again: I’d like to continue this kind of online communication, especially when we are faced with economic difficulties.
“I have once said that I am a 67-year-old senior person right now. I’d like to give the people of the whole nation courage, hope, and power through my words, my deeds, and the policies my administration makes. I’d like to come here often to talk to you all. Thank you!”