At least, that is the hope. And it seems to be a hope that is getting closer and closer to becoming true thanks to Weibo, the microblogging service that has increasingly grown into a platform for more rational interactions between the government and its people in China. Two recent news serve as good examples of how Weibo has made it possible for conscience citizens to get their voices heard and how the government, some local ones at least, has adapted from “secretly deleting” oppositions to “openly responding” to scrutiny.
To prepare for the 2012 International Horticultureal Expo, the Qingdao municipal government launched a 4 billion yuan (about 7.2% of its fiscal revenue of the previous year) tree-planting initiative which included the elimination of existing green lands. Since its release in March, the project was under scrutiny of local residents who thought it was a “face” project and a waste of tax payers’ money. A month passed and those questioning voices started to believe that the project would be another case where the government just does whatever they want without considering public opinions.
Things, however, took a sudden turn on April 10 when a post-80 generation girl @潘uu posted a long weibo titled “The journey of how an ordinary citizen makes suggestions to the government” (long weibo is an screenshot of texts that is often used to express more sophisticated ideas or to trick censors on Sina Weibo). In her post, @潘uu first explained how she researched China’s constitution and relevant laws to make sure that she, as an ordinary citizen, has the right to question a government tree-planting project like the one in Qingdao. Then she went on raising questions about the necessity of a 4 billion yuan tree-planting project in places where there were already public green lands, as well as how the 4 billion will be spent and who will be responsible for supervising the whole project.
The post was reposted tens of thousands of times and attracted thousands of comments. A week later on April 17, Qingdao city government official Weibo account @青岛发布 issued their first official response:
“Recently, many residents and netizens expressed their concerns about the tree-planting project. Many raised questions and made suggestions about planning and implementation details. Some criticisms are very reasonable; and the suggestions have great value. Relevant organs under the city government take it very seriously and are already working on plans to respond to questions and solve potential problems. @青岛发布 will release government responses on a timely basis. Feel free to follow.”
On April 18, @青岛发布 released an official apology from Qingdao Municipal Bureau of Urban Utilities and Landscaping, detailedly explaining the logics behind the 4 billion tree-planting project and admitting that the government has made some mistakes due to lack of thorough research. More importantly, at the end of the apology, it said:
“We haven’t informed the public about plan details timely…which lead to some misunderstanding…We failed to proactively communicated with the public and we already designated a special team to collect public opinions and suggestions.”
Then on April 19th, @青岛发布 held a 2-hour online public hearing where the Deputy Mayor of Qingdao hosted a Q&A session with netizens on the project. So many netizens came that the discussion page was temporarily down due to massive visits.
The case has since been reported as an example of how conscious citizens can impact policy-making in China. But for most people who witnessed the story from beginning to end, their lesson of the day is that if you want to get heard, get attention on Weibo first. And another case happened just yesterday echoed the conclusion perfectly.
During the day of April 20, the story of 42-year-old Wang Hui went viral on Sina Weibo. The Shanxi businesswoman, CEO of a big local agricultural company, was exposed to be appointed the Associate Head of Wenshui County 15 years ago, stayed on government payroll since and yet never went to work for a single day.
Hours after the news’ first appearance on Sina Weibo, during the evening of April 20, @新华视点 released an official response on behalf of Lvliang News Bureau:
“Regarding the news “Shangxi businesswoman became Associate County Head. Stayed on payroll for 15 years without going to work for single day,” Lvliang Municipal Government has paid great attention and already dispatched a special investigation team. We will review the case carefully based on investigation results and according to relevant regulations. We will also make review results public as soon as possible. At the same time, we welcome media supervision of our works.”
Yes, these are still stock phrases. And yes, as @海石51201 commented, “What if the news hasn’t been exposed by media? They should investigate the case 15 years ago.” But given Chinese government’s track record of either covering up or keeping salience, they now at least care to respond and they respond quick. Also noteworthy, they acknowledge of necessity of keeping the public informed on a timely basis. Though this is still pretty much only happening on Weibo, it shows that Chinese government is adapting, however slowly. More importantly, growing cases like these empower netizens to become responsible citizens who dare to care and dare to make a stand. As @潘uu said in her most recent weibo post:
“At the beginning, I thought I did this out of my love for Qingdao. Then, I thought I did this out of anger. In the end, I came to realize that it doesn’t matter what I did it for. What matters is that we have the right to do it.”