On April 22, 2010, as Wu Hao (伍皓), the young deputy propaganda chief of China’s southwest Yunnan Province, delivered a talk at Renmin University of China, a young man ran up and tossed hundreds of 50-cent notes onto the stage, saying in judgment for all to hear: “Wu Hao, wu mao” (伍皓，五毛) or “Wu Hao, fifty cents.”
This was the protester’s rather creative way of saying that Wu Hao, who has earned a reputation as something of a progressive thinker in the area of news and propaganda policy, is little more than a party-state manipulator of public opinion and not interested in real openness. “50 cents” is a reference to China’s so-called “50-cent party,” or wumaodang (五毛党), online commentators (known as “Internet commentators”, or wangluo pinglunyuan) mobilized by the government to watch for dissent on the Web and post pro-party comments in order to properly “guide public opinion” on hot news topics.
Wu Hao gained some credit for his “open” handling of the “eluding the cat” case in early 2009, when he organized an “independent” investigation by a team of Internet users into the death of prisoner in a pre-trial detention facility. It has since been suggested that several of the Internet users Wu Hao recruited for his “investigation,” which many dismissed as a publicity stunt, were in fact Internet commentators, or “fifty-centers.”
[ABOVE: Screenshot of online coverage of Wu Hao’s speech at Renmin University of China.]
During the Renmin University incident, Wu Hao apparently kept his cool, a sign of a true public relations master.
On April 23, the day after he was showered with bills, Wu Hao remarked in a media interview: “Our society truly needs some venting mechanisms — this is very important.”
A number of Chinese media pointed out in response to Wu Hao’s remark that while “venting mechanisms” might be helpful or even necessary, this idea failed to address the core issue — public demand for greater openness of information and greater participation.
“We should recognize,” wrote one columnist at Huashang Bao, “that channeling and venting are just ways of temporarily ‘reducing fevers’ and not ways of dealing with root causes.”