With the new Chinese leadership brought into the light yesterday, Left Foot Forward looks at what public opinion is, and how much public opinion can be found.
Yesterday saw the curtains drawn on China’s leadership for the next decade in a flurry of orchestrated formality; the reaction on the internet, however, has not been entirely in keeping with the overall dialogue of the party congress, reports Dan Holden
Prior to the announcement there had been widespread anger and criticism on Twitter, which is censored in China and so only available to the few who are technically-capable enough.
Human rights activist Hu Jia (currently under house arrest) tweeted his anger at the use of taxpayers’ money to facilitate the party congress and the use of the justice system to suppress opposition expression.
Criticism also focuses on the claims by the new leadership to be committed to reform whilst at the same time targeting corruption, a move considered by some to be a “justification for no reform”.
Obviously, to gain a true picture of Chinese public opinion in the wake of the new leadership is immensely difficult; political dissidents have been locked up, the internet is heavily controlled and Twitter and Facebook are banned.
Having said this, despite the heavy-handed work of censors on the Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo (only accredited accounts, i.e. approved identities, could comment) many who wished to talk about the congress found ingenious ways to do so.
Bloggers used rhyming slang and phrases such as “10+8” in order to get around censors. According to the BBC, many of those using the micro-blogging site were supportive of the speech given by Xi Jinping and were hopeful of the difference he can bring.
Prominent Chinese blogger and human rights activist Zhou Shuguang tweeted about his openness to the new leadership only very hesitantly, with the caveat of the release of political dissidents, before optimism could ever set in.
Despite criticism levelled at the party congress and at the Chinese Communist Party in general, the Wall Street Journal reports many of the urban middle class that use social media were impressed by Xi Jinping’s apparently more human demeanour.
The new leadership were 50 minutes late arriving on stage, which Xi apologised about in the beginning of his speech; a move unusual to Chinese politics but nevertheless well received.
Again the Wall Street Journal makes a point that a gauge of true opinion is immensely difficult with the work of censors before, during and after the announcements, but one thing of note is the contrast made between Xi and his predecessor, in Xi’s favour as a more modern leader.
It remains to be seen what will transpire of this transfer of power; the truth is we do not know their plan of action for China and likewise do not properly know of the reaction of the Chinese people; needless to say we live in the era of the internet, a forum for public opinion hitherto unfathomable, and we see one of the world’s largest nations attempting to control this.
When Xi’s predecessor came to power in 2002, only approximately 4.5% of individuals used the internet. In 2011 it was 38%. With this figure only rising, it will be very interesting to see how much longer China can control public expression.