Classmate Yang goes online: Chinese officials engage netizens
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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