Twitter is banned in China–all sorts of culturally-polluting ideas might leak through the Great Wall if the government let citizens use it. So there are state-monitored local alternatives. And the President’s just joined one. A new era, perhaps?
Twitter’s free-wheeling, news-breaking, open discussion format is just incompatible with how the Chinese government would like its people to lifecast (and the anti-government Twitter-aided demonstrations in Iran must’ve resonated with China’s officials too) so it’s inaccessible from Chinese PCs. But there are local alternatives, like the popular Sina. The government monitors these services, and requires their owners to do the same “self-censorship” that it was trying to get Google to comply with recently, resulting in a fiasco that’s still not concluded (though experts now think they nearly understand the China-base cyber attack on Google that started the whole thing off).
With this harsh control of free speech as a backdrop, it may be slightly surprising that the President, Hu Jintao has apparently opened an account on a Chinese microblog, a registration-required one run by the People’s Daily. Or is it a surprise? Both Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao have engaged in public Webchats before, and there are international precedents. Most obviously, President Obama Tweets (or at least many anonymous flunkeys in the White House Tweet on his behalf) and clearly China’s senior officials wouldn’t like to be behind the cutting edge.
Hu hasn’t made any posts yet, and one wonders exactly what he’d say anyway (“Woke up in favorite panda pajamas. Servants brought me tea. Flying off to capitalist USA for state visit later. China FTW!”) But that hasn’t stopped over seven thousand of Chinese signing up to follow his account. He has added a user profile, though, with the impressive title: “General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, Chinese President and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.”
The most interesting thing will be to see what gets “Tweeted” via Hu’s account. Will it be used merely as another platform for the government to propagandize? Or will it be a rare and precious window into the inner workings of the Chinese government? At least we’ll be able to compare it with what Obama’s Tweeting, and see if the two leaders are on the same page–with fabulous timing the most recent Obamatweet as I write this is “Just one example of our commitment to doing our work openly and giving people the government they deserve: http://bit.ly/dpqflK.” Just don’t mention the Dalai Lama.