Jul 10

Classmate Yang goes online: Chinese officials engage netizens

Written by Buxi on Thursday, July 10th, 2008 at 9:24 pm
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Chinese president Hu Jintao’s brief appearance on the Strong Country internet forum might be more significant than most of us originally thought. There have been other signs in recent weeks that the PRC government is reconsidering its approach to Internet speech. I translate a story (原文), just published in the China Youth Daily (中国青年报, operated by the Communist Youth League).

Zhuzhou Discipline Party Secretary goes online with his real name Angry enough to smash his keyboard, but too afraid to curse.

Yang Ping is party secretary of the Discipline Committee, in the city of Zhuzhou, Hunan province.  Recently, he got a new nickname. It all started on an internet forum he started to frequent.  The netizens there began to call him “classmate Yang Ping”. Gradually, even his friends began to refer to him this way.

He never thought that he’d get this kind of nickname at the age of 47. He also never thought that, since he started going online with his real name in May, he would be seeing changes beyond his nickname.

It first occurred to him to go online with his real name in April. Yang Ping saw many netizens complaining about the Zhuzhou city government: the streets were full of potholes and transportation was inconvenient; city management had chased away the vendors, making it difficult to buy fresh peppers and dough sticks… Yang Ping felt the government really could come out and explain these issues, perhaps soothe the emotions of these netizens.

He created an account with a false name and posted a reply, but was quickly cursed out: “You’re just a dog nurtured by the people on top!” Yang Ping was shocked… and he suddenly thought, what if he took off this fake identity, what would happen if he emerged from the water?

On May 14th, he read some material that said Hunan provincial party chief Zhang Chunxian had started a thread on Rednet, wishing everyone a happy new year. One of the netizens approvingly described the post as “starting a new chapter in Chinese internet and political history, very meaningful”. He thought about it for more than two hours, and balanced the various possible outcomes. He finally ordered his secretary to organize one of his most recent speeches, along with two cases he just finished investigating; using his own name and picture, he posted them online.

In the Zhuzhou discussion board on Hunan’s Rednet (红网连接), the first post written by “Yang Ping” appeared (posted on May 14th). It was titled: “Eight major problems with Zhuzhou city leadership’s work style” (原文连接). Unexpectedly, the post was quickly deleted. The administrator said: “You’re impersonating secretary Yang Ping!” It was reposted again, and the administrator reacted: “Oh how dare you! Trying to impersonate someone else, and defraud us!”

The secretary had no choice but to search out the Zhuzhou board’s administrator, who was properly shocked: you really are Yang Ping. They immediately opened up a “back door”, and gave the newbie the rights to post pictures. Quickly, a work picture of Yang Ping wearing a tie was uploaded.

The main administrator for Rednet learned this news, and said this is something new… let’s encourage it! They gave him a big bag of “online currency”, raised his user account status from “newbie” to “third class internet supervisor”, and gave him some special privileges, allowing him to send short messages; his account was also made especially secure…

That first night when Yang Ping went online, he was faced with a flood of curses and insults. Some said he was trying to become famous like Sister Lotus (芙蓉姐姐), other said he was just embroidering (faking something, trying to look good). He kept replying to all of these, trying to explain himself. On the second day, more explanations. On the third day, more explanations. On the four day, he kept explaining.

Gradually, people began to believe that the person logging on every night at the same time really was the chief secretary of the Party’s discipline committee. Many of those who had always thrown bricks at him began to throw bread rolls; some even began to describe him as being “great” (ed: 伟大, as in Mao Zedong type of great).

Today, as soon as he writes a post, it will be pinned to the top of the forum. On Red Net, his posts have the greatest number of follow-on replies. From May 14th until today, he’s written more than 290 posts. His first real-name post has been viewed over 20,000 times, with 550 follow-on replies.

More and more people began to appeal to him. “Someone with more than one child has been appointed head of the All-Women Federation”; “City management is using violence while carrying out the law, just like Japanese devils scouring the village”; “A village election used 60000 RMB in bribes”, “A village road is tofu construction”…. appeals ran across the board, and some were even from other areas.

Yang Pang is normally online from 11 PM until 1 AM… as soon as its midnight, netizens call out: “Is Yang Ping here? Time to check if he’s at his station!” Some posting appeals are trying everything they can to force their posts to the top of the forum, just waiting for Yang Ping to go online.

“I’m begging you”, “Please help us”, “Yang Ping – Please Enter”, “Secretary Yang – Please Look”. Some posts are written this way. Some also gave Yang Ping the nickname of Yang “Blue Sky” (see related Pomfret post), or the “Online Cleaner” … this all made Yang Ping “terrified”.

He stayed up late writing a post, with the subject: Two Requests from Yang Ping (原文连接):

  • – first, if you don’t have real concrete evidence, please do not discuss full details/identities of your problem online. This could cause irreparable damage, and have a negative effect on society over all. If there’s something they need to appeal about, please go directly to the Discipline committee, or talk to him directly.
  • – second, he very appreciates all of the support and replies, but “please don’t grant me excessive respect; you’ll suffocate me that way.”

Going online with his real name, according to Yang Ping, is just like “dancing on a stage under a spotlight; the audience is pitch black, and you don’t know who’s throwing the flowers and who’s throwing the bricks… all you can do is hold your smile and stand on stage.”

Sometimes, the street-style insults and curses online makes him angry enough to want to smash his keyboard. Many times, with his fingers on the keyboard, he typed out a combative reply… but then he thinks of his identity and stature, lights a cigarette, and holds back his impulses.

He mulls over every reply carefully. Even a few sentences takes him more than 10 minutes to transmit. He’s afraid of making typos; he’s even afraid of making a mistake with punctuation. Some online have teased him, are you hand-writing a draft before every reply?

He’s often trying to respond to the netizens’ doubts. Once, he posted an article “The closest road to Zhongnanhai is the Internet” (原文连接). Someone quickly pointed out that “closest to Zhonghai” is representative of an official’s thought process. He rushed out to explain: his original meaning was that the internet is closest to Zhongnanhai, but closest to the Internet are the common people. The internet is a channel for reflecting public emotion and public opinion.

Some asked suspiciously, since it takes so long to write a post, couldn’t he be spending that problem to meet average people and handle actual problems. Yang Ping could only humbly explain that writing a post only takes a few minutes, and something he only does at night and in the early morning, and has no effect on his work.

Other netizens asked: “Do you really know how to type, or is it a secretary taking care of this for you?” That night, he didn’t reply, because he didn’t feel like he had to explain such a pointless inquiry. But the second morning, the first thing he did when he woke was to turn on the computer and reply. Because “if he didn’t spit it out he would be miserable, if he didn’t spit it out he’d be suggesting it was true”.

His reply said: “My reaction to this question was: I disdain to answer it. I’ve been going online since the ’90s of last century. At the time I couldn’t type, and I asked my daughter to help. How can I possibly tell my secretary to write my replies for me, in the middle of the night?”

Another netizen immediately replied: “I would like to criticize classmate Yang Ping. You don’t have to reply, but ‘disdaining’ to answer it, that’s an attitude problem. Maybe you’ve been online since the ’90s, and maybe he’s just been online since 2008… this reflects a practical problem with a difference in social position and economic class. Our Communist Party should have the “spirit of a milk cow” (ed: inspired by Lu Xun’s writings; milk cows eats grass, but give milk. Means ready to sacrifice and work hard). From your ‘disdain’ for a reply we can see your attitude. From your mention of being online since the early ’90s we can see your spoiled arrogance.”

When Yang Ping saw this, he “sat there dumb-founded”, “angered beyond temper”.

Ever since he’s started going online with his real identify, he feels like he’s been pulling out his internal organs and showing them to the world. Online, he can’t have a bad temper, he can’t curse. He has to be the perfect gentleman.

Behaving this way makes even himself feel “like a stranger, not adorable, not warm… too tiring”. He calls logging into his online id his “work uniform”; others have recommended that he should get some “leisure clothes” — a “horse jacket” (another ID). He accepted this advice; sometimes he’ll put on a horse jacket and get into a cursing match with others, say some of the things he shouldn’t say in his official capacity.

He really doesn’t like the serious looking work picture his boss picked out for him; he wanted to change to a picture of himself smiling by the riverside, a picture of him on vacation wearing sunglasses… that way, he can look more like an “ordinary netizen”. But he’s concerned that if he changes his picture, more people will accuse him of being the fake Yang Ping.

This picture has been described by some online as: “really ugly and bald.” But others have said: “How handsome, must be a younger picture… looks like a nose job, let’s see a more recent picture.”

“I don’t really care; in the eyes of my wife and daughter, I’m the most handsome man ever, and that’s good enough.” He rubbed his nose and said happily.

At 25, he was selected to be Zhuzhou Communist Youth League Vice Secretary. At 27, he became the province’s youngest vice-county chief. From that point on he’s also been vice-chair of Zhuzhou’s High Tech Development Zone, and he’s also been bureau minister for the real estate bureau. He was later assigned the High Tech Development Zone chairman and party secretary.

“Going online with your real name and big picture, aren’t you concerned someone’s going to expose skeletons in your closet?” The reporter asked him.

“I thought about this before going online. If we have a full audit of the past, I’m completely confident.” He is completely clear on this point.

According to him, the Zhuzhou Discipline Committee has already gotten several leads through web postings, and investigated several instances of violations of party regulations. For example, a bureau-grade work unit was asking for business sponsorship against regulations; a quality assurance division head was involved in corruption.

In the last two months, Yang Ping has received more than 30 petitions through online short message. Most have been transferred for processing, and so far seven have been fully processed. “The internet has become my second office.”

Some have called him an “alternative netizen” or an “alternative official”… but he “doesn’t want to be alternative”. He doesn’t want to be moved away from the official space, and isolated by his coworkers and those above/below him.

The “silent treatment” he’s been getting from coworkers and bosses has him sitting on pins and needles. In the 13 story city office building that he works in, there are 700-800 entering and exiting every day, and the vast majority recognize Yang Ping. But when they meet, everyone greets him just like usual, no one has ever asked him about being online. “No one has ever brought this up in a meeting; they don’t ask, and they don’t discuss. No one says its good, and no one says its bad… but they look at you with a strange expression.” Yang Ping said, “Many people don’t ask me face to face, but will privately ask my secretary, ‘Is that really Yang Ping’?”

There was also a phone call from a bureau chief at the province level, saying that it’s not appropriate for a Discipline Committee Party Secretary to go online with his real identity. Some things can be exploited by the overseas media. He’s always hoped for approval from the provincial and national level. He’s concerned that his superiors will use special regulations to forbid officials from going online with their real identities. But there has been no response from above.

Only a few very intimate friends will tease him in person: “Classmate Yang, you’re famous!”

For some time, he felt a great deal of pressure. Until one day, while he was on business in Fujian, the news on his cell-phone said that Party Secretary Hu Jintao had gone online with his real name, and answered three questions posed by netizens. He was so excited he almost jumped off the bed. “If the general secretary can go online with his real name, I’m just a small official, what am I afraid of.” That day, he was online deep into the night.

He believes that the General Party Secretary going online has “sent a political signal”. Only a few days later, the media began to come and interview him. He quickly became the famous “classmate Yang Ping”. The central government’s discipline committee put this news on their website, and the provincial discipline committee also gave him complete approval. This finally let him breath a long sigh of relief.

Now, he’s still banging on his keyboard every night, entering into his “anti-corruption” online persona. Of course, that serious “Yang Ping” also has a cute side.

He has an online pet, a QQ baby. “So far, my baby has been growing for 789 hours, and started university. She’s started to express interest in dating. She likes sweet dumplings (tangyuan), and uses Chashuang toothpaste. Once she’s full, she likes to sit on the swing.” While saying this, he feeds her another “dumpling”.

He plans to not just fight corruption online, but also share with other netizens “chicken soup of the soul”. He’s already thought of the “first bowl of soup”: the world is an echo-filled valley. Just like his grandfather told him when he was little, only if you’re good to others will they be good to you. If you don’t believe me, go to the talk of the valley and shout “good morning”; you will hear “good morning” echoing back to you. If you curse their moms, you will hear the echo doing the same.

“So, however you treat this world and others, that’s how the world and others will treat you.”

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18 Responses to “Classmate Yang goes online: Chinese officials engage netizens”

  1. opersai Says:

    That’s a really good start. Here in Canada, just not long ago, I heard a interview with Industry Minister, requested by a radio show – CBC search engine, in regards to the new Digital Copyright Legislation. Though, the Minister refused the request several times, and only granted a very short (a few minutes) interview over the phone, the important thing is, normal citizens can ask the Minister for interview over things that really concern them.

    What Yang Ping, Hu Jingtao is doing now is very good, very important. The internet enables a more personal connection between the officials and normal people. If continued, people will feel closer to them in time.

  2. Netizen Says:

    This is too long. I suggest posting shorter posts focusing on a discrete issue.

    I wonder you or someone else is going to summarize the new understanding for topics posted.

  3. Buxi Says:


    That’s good feedback. I’ll keep that in mind on future articles. I just liked this article so much in the original Chinese, in its entirety… it was cute, informative, and I think very meaningful… that I wanted to translate it in full.

    But here’s my attempt at a summary, and why this is a really important story:

    The Chinese government has, for decades, restricted the rights of the Chinese citizens to engage in debate about China and its political future. There are many reasons that could be given for this… but the bottom line, it’s a serious limitation for the Chinese nation. It’s past time that we have more open, intelligent, informed debate. (Kind of like this blog, I think.)

    The exciting thing is that we’re seeing hints that this might finally be changing, especially online. The online world has existed in sort of a strange condition for years… it’s very popular and very influential, but it was also become sort of a wild territory which the government basically ignored, except to delete messages that “crossed the line”.

    A month ago, President Hu Jintao took a major step by engaging in an online discussion at the People’s Daily. And now, this report is clearly a conscious effort to tell the country at large that it’s time we opened up online discussions. I don’t necessarily expect the censorship of extreme messages to end, but I do now expect government officials to respond and talk directly with average netizens online.

    This story is about one such official who is doing just that: Yang Ping in Hunan province sees the internet as his “second office”, a place that’s very important for carrying out his official duties. And because it’s happening online, it’s very “democratic” (anyone can submit a post), it’s very “transparent” (anyone can read the discussion)… these are all key challenges for the Chinese government!

    I really hope to see this continue. Can we imagine a China, in which every senior official takes out two hours a day to answer the most popular questions posed to them online?

  4. MutantJedi Says:

    Actually, I didn’t find it too long. And since the original is in Chinese, I can’t (yet) refer to it for context. So a full translation is better than a summary for me (… but having dabbled a bit in translation, I would be very appreciative for even a summary – it takes some thinking to do a translation!)

    It is a really important story.

    I haven’t commented because I don’t know where to begin.

    It’s a positive story. Yang really put is neck way out. I don’t know of any Canadian politician or civil servant that brings there work home like Yang has. Though, I suppose Hillary was available for phone calls at 3 am. Doesn’t really matter where the bureaucracy is, mavericks can find themselves in the cold real fast. We get that sense from the whole translation as well.

  5. Netizen Says:

    After reading Buxi’s summary, I went back to read the whole article. Here are comments:

    This is a really empty article. This Yang Ping may be a conscientious guy, but has he resolved any problem or some corruption dealt with as a result of his going online? The article didn’t say. That says something. It’s a bad article without saying any effect of his doing. Maybe after seeing tons of complaints online, he couldn’t point to anything he has accomplished. OK, he raised an online pet. That’s the only concrete thing mentioned in the article. Nothing relating to the purpose of his going online. The whole thing is fishy.

  6. Buxi Says:


    Well, Yang Ping is just the secretary of the Party’s discipline committee in one small city in Hunan province… his personal impact is always going to be “minor”; he’s only going to be able to deal with local problems… and even then, his position isn’t high enough to resolve problems himself, he can only bring attention to them.

    But he does talk about receiving 30 appeals, with 7 fully resolved over the past month and a half. For a local official, that’s not bad.

    The real impact here is if every secretary in every city in every province (or even one in 10) follows in his footsteps. If that happens, if that’s where China is headed, then there’s real progress. Actually for years, most Chinese government bureaus have had “online petition” boxes. You could file a request/complaint online, get a receipt number, and then wait for a reply + confirmation online. Some departments handled this very well… but others (especially those involved in handling real complaints, not routine administrative requests like – “where’s my passport”) tended to drag their heels, often ignoring the petition entirely.

    Hopefully, this sort of more open discussion led by Yang Ping will change the way things are done in China…

  7. Eric Says:


    check this out.

  8. Eric Says:


    check this out.

  9. Netizen Says:

    I won’t be total negative on Yang Ying. I agree with you that he should be commanded for going online. Only that though.

  10. Buxi Says:


    Very interesting, thanks! That’s the blog for the chief party secretary for the city of Shuyang, in Jiangsu province. Looks like the blog goes back all the way to December 2006.

    If you look at this post, about some low-cost housing developments he’s helped put together in Shuyang county… it looks like many people in the community are REALLY appreciative of him:


    It looks like he talks about every day things he sees in government, projects, Does he talk about anything very serious? Like petitions or appeals? Does he ever respond directly to questions?

    Maybe those that from mainland China, those who don’t watch state media don’t understand how refreshing these simple blogs and forums are. If you watched the local news on TV… it’s always the same repetitive, try, meaningless propagandaf every night.

    “A major hearing was held on fertilizer pricing in the city. By focusing on the quality and price blah blah blah blah… Party secretary XXX, mayor YYY, work and business bureau head ZZZ were in attendance…”

    The subei (northern Jiangsu) area was always known as being extremely poor and backwards when I was growing up. But I’ve heard the change there has been amazing over the last 10 years.

  11. Jane Says:

    I enjoyed reading this post. I thought it was long at first but once I got into it, I quickly realized it was a valuable little piece on the changing nature of bureaucratic life in China. I disagree that only if Yang Ping accomplishes something that his life is worthy of a post — sometimes the process is just as important as the end result.

    Besides, can you imagine the bureaucrats who passed the civil exams in ancient China or even the bureaucrats from the KMT government and (pre-Sichuan earthquake) CCP government doing this? Yang Ping is a pioneer and as with every pioneer he may not produce dramatic changes but he’ll pave the way for government officials after him to be more open and in touch with the people.

    After the government building comparison piece, this is a good “the other side of the story” post. Thanks Buxi et al for the continued good work.

  12. Charles Liu Says:

    Say, did anyone see or commented on this article:


    It’s an article that makes an allegation that hundreds of thousands of internet commentators paid by the Chinese government to manipulate internet opinion, including the allegation the Jack Caferty thing was promoted by Chinese government shills.

    I’ve found many problems with this article. Just wondering what your opinion is.

    BTW nobody pays me. Honestly US$0.07 per post is simply not enough to sustain my luxurious 1st world lifestyle in America 🙂

  13. Buxi Says:


    “50 cents” are widely believed to exist; I think they most likely do. There are various documents floating around claiming to be “handbooks” for these 50 cent internet commentators.

    We talked about them on our Tianya thread, too:

    Frankly, I don’t see a problem with them existing… we know the US’s National Endowment for Democracy pays dissident groups to publish political commentary, why wouldn’t the Chinese government do the same? What’s really different from a pseudo-government think-tanks, and government internet commentators? One tries to influence opinion from above, and the other tries to influence opinion from below.

    I don’t really think these commentators have too significant of an effect on popular opinion, though. The world is just too large. But it is a reminder that people are going to have to learn to read things online with a critical eye.

    For now, I’m just enjoying the $0.07 * 100 articles = $7 that we’ve made over the last 3 months. Starbucks latte, anyone?

  14. Charles Liu Says:

    Just a FYI, you and FoolsMountain have the honorable mention of CEO-level, which makes 100 times more.

    Now we’re talking about steak dinner.

    Honestly you don’t find this broad brush generalization insulting? Basically this unproven allegation is perpetuated to write off any POV in China (or overseas) that the some in West unpallatable.

  15. Buxi Says:


    Your article:

    I think the article is actually generally accurate, for the first half. I think the Communist Party does believe there’s a battle of opinions being hosted on online turf, and I believe it’s taking steps to get its voice out there. I don’t see anything particularly evil about that.

    But I agree these articles are incredibly insulting when it suggests there are 280,000 fifty-cent posters, and then repeats (unsourced) quotes like this:

    “One of the most obvious was over CNN’s Jack Cafferty. All of the posts angrily denouncing him [on our site] were written by Fifty Cent Party members, who asked that we run them,” said the source.

    It’s beyond ridiculous. Anyone who hangs around in the Chinese internet wouldn’t believe fifty-cent posters had nearly that kind of power or influence. The Chinese Internet public is a powerful, significant force… and it is not easily led by the nose by the Chinese government. The Weng’an riots and the Shanghai police attack are all proof of this.

    In fact, the point of this thread… that the government is relaxing online debate, is confirmation that the government realizes it can’t win a closed off debate no matter how many fifty-cent posters there are. The vast majority of Chinese online are patriotic and reasonable; they can play a role in supervising and improving Chinese government. I think a healthy, increasingly open internet environment will prove that.

  16. idehyday Says:

    It’s amazing


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  2. Global Voices Online » China: Chinese officials engage netizens

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