Hunan’s top leader touted as congenial cadre after posting Chinese New Year message on the Web

The top leader of China’s Hunan province, Zhang Chunxian (张春贤), who took up his post in November 2006, has set the bar for official public relations savvy in Hu Jintao’s new drive to “develop [the Internet] well, use it well and manage it well” (建设好、利用好、管理好). [BELOW: Screenshot of profile of Hunan Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian at China.org.cn].

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In what some have read as a high-level official vote of confidence in China’s proposed real-name registration system for the Internet, Hunan Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian registered on the Web on February 15, the eve of China’s Spring Festival, and posted a message to the people of Hunan. The official not only included Web users in his well-wishing letter, but thanked them directly for their participation and support in offering suggestions to the leadership regarding the Party Congress to be held later this year, and their suggestions for creating a prosperous and harmonious Hunan ["The Road to the 17th Party Congress", Hoover Institution].

In the days following Zhang Chunxian’s posting on Rednet.cn, the news was taken up with gusto by major Chinese Web portals, including Sina.com, Sohu.com, Xinhuanet, People.com.cn, Netease, and Qialongnet. Zhang was warmly appended with the moniker, “Secretary close to the people” (亲民书记).

As domestic media have pointed out, Zhang’s letter fits well with President Hu Jintao’s latest policy statement on how leaders should treat the Web. Hu emphasized back in January that party leaders must be strategic in their use of the Internet given its growing influence in the lives of Chinese citizens. “We must, with an energetic attitude and a spirit of innovation, strongly develop and propagate a healthy and uplifting Internet culture, practically building the Internet well, using it well and managing it well”, said Hu. In China, where numerical policy formulations are vested with a kind of political magic, Hu’s Web policy is now referred to in short as the “three wells” (三好).

Coverage of Zhang’s letter on the Web was followed with a wave of coverage in the traditional media. Shanghai’s Wen Hui Bao, for example, wrote in its story lead on February 20: “Up to 6:27pm on the 19th, Web hits [to Zhang Chunxian's letter] had already reached 40,000, and close to 400 Web postings had been made [in response]. Several hundred Websites paid particular attention to this [event].”

Somewhat ironically, of course, it is impossible to say, given Hu Jintao’s injunction to officials to “use [the Web] well”, whether response to the Zhang Chunxian letter was a natural outpouring of public opinion or an orchestrated event. Why, in other words, did “several hundred Websites pay particular attention to this [event]“?

For reasons unknown to CMP, Zhang’s original posting to rednet.cn, cited in a number of Chinese news articles, is no longer available, but yields the following error message:

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Hu’s call to use the Web well, and Zhang Chunxian’s savvy response, can be seen as part of a general effort to re-orient official propaganda. In the last several years, Chinese leaders have sought to use commercial media in new ways to get their messages out to the public. The need to resort to such methods is particularly keen in light of the poor performance of “party” newspapers (the X Dailies), which focus on dry official goings-on, in an increasingly competitive commercial media environment.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:
Netease coverage of Zhang Chunxian letter (Chinese)
The Beijing News coverage of Zhang Chunxian letter (Chinese)

[Posted by David Bandurski, February 23, 2007, 4:23pm]

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