China's top leader held his first live online chat with netizens on Friday, telling them divergent voices could be heard in the country.
After inspecting the People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China (CPC), President Hu Jintao, who said he sometimes found time to surf the web, chatted online at people.com.cn, the Internet arm of the daily newspaper.
Hu said in his chat with netizens, "I try to know through the Internet what people are concerned about and what they think (on a wide range of topics)."
"I'm willing to get an idea on people's complaints of and proposals to the work of our Party and the government," Hu said.
China now has the world's largest online population of more than 221 million, most of whom are educated and living in cities. People are remarkably less dependent on traditional news media and find new ways to satisfy their information and entertainment appetite.
Speaking of the CPC's credo of "putting people first and exercising governance for the people," Hu, also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, said it is "important to garner national wisdom by hearing opinions from the people."
"The Internet is an important space to know about people's thoughts," said the president, who revealed that the BBS of people.com.cn was his must-visit while surfing on the web.
The BBS Hu mentioned is the Qiangguo Forum, with the literal meaning in Chinese of "powering the nation". The virtual reality forum was initiated by netizens to express anger at the U.S.-led NATO forces bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999. Since then, the forum has been one of the most popular venues for netizens to voice their individual opinions.
Hu's emphasis on the Internet as a channel of communication between people and the government echoed his speech at a meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee at the beginning of the year. "How well we use the Internet will decide the information security and, ultimately, long-term effective governance and national security," he said.
The stance of China's top leadership assured people that no voice would be ignored.
After the leading news portal notified surfers of Hu's online chat, questions flooded in, which triggered a temporary web jam due to too many simultaneous visits.
Questions covered the jitters of individual investors about the stock exchange downturn, corruption, retail prices, mainland-Taiwan relations, the Beijing Olympics and the pension system. One posting even asked for the president's email address.
Hu's four-minute live chat with netizens highlighted recent efforts of the government to directly contact the people.
Premier Wen Jiabao said at a high-profile news conference that he often got to know people's concerns through websites. Another leading news portal, xinhuanet.com even kicked off a bulletin soliciting questions for the premier during the annual legislature session in March 2008.
Leading legislators and ministers, including former Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, were invited to chat online.
One prominent communication scholar Yin Yungong said, "The Chinese leadership shows more confidence and open-mindedness as well as their resolve to adopt people-oriented politics".