One of the big China stories of the past 48 hours has been the replacement of 65-year-old Wang Lequan (王乐泉) as the top party leader of China’s restive northwest region of Xinjiang. Wang’s successor, 57 year-old Zhang Chunxian (张春贤), is the former top party boss of Hunan province, and has been described by English-language media as “amiable“, “young” and “fresh.“
But the most apt description came yesterday from Kathrin Hille at the Financial Times, who characterized Zhang Chunxian as “media savvy.”
China has replaced its hard-line Communist party chief for Xinjiang province with a media-savvy politician with economic training more than nine months after the country’s worst ethnic riots in decades claimed almost 200 lives in the restive western region.
How exactly is Zhang Chunxian media savvy?
In China these days, where the Internet is playing an ever greater role in society and politics despite aggressive controls, to be media savvy is to be Web savvy. And for several years now — even before Hu Jintao formalized his policy of active “public opinion channeling,” or what we’ve called Control 2.0 — Zhang has been something of a CCP celebrity on the Internet.
Zhang has been dubbed, in fact, the “Internet secretary”, or wangluo shuji (网络书记), for his smart, and apparently popular, use of the Web as a tool of communication with the masses.
The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in Hebei’s official Shijiazhuang Daily on January 13 this year. It extolls Zhang Chunxian’s virtues as the “Internet secretary.”
It could be seen on the Internet recently that Hunan Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian (张春贤) was added to [the online list] of “People’s Daily Online’s Top Ten Strong Voices” (人民网十大最强音), where he was listed at number seven. As a native of Hunan’s Daxiangxi, I feel incomparably proud at having such a secretary [or top provincial leader] . . .
Along with the rapid development of the Internet, our country’s online population has grown by leaps and bounds. Our country now has 360 million Internet users. This is an extremely massive group. And while it can be said that this group is a virtual concept, they are in fact citizens . . . and their words and opinions represent the views of this particular group of citizens, conveying the voice and will of the people. A knowledge of the idea of cyber politics (网络问政) has already become a necessary skill in the political literacy of leaders and cadres in the new era.
Since Zhang Chunxian has governed Hunan, he has placed a high priority on the building of Internet infrastructure and on cyber politics. Zhang Chunxian has summed up his “Internet outlook” (网络观) as “understanding the Internet, going online and using the Internet” (懂网、上网、用网). And an important aspect of Zhang Chunxian’s approach to his work has become: “Going online for heart to heart interactions, then serving [the people] offline; Going online to learn about problems, working offline to solve them.”
In recent years, Zhang Chunxian has bravely shown his face online, striking through the sea of the Internet, becoming one with Internet users, making connections with online friends, having heart to hearts with Internet users, and learning about the popular mood and will through the Web, thereby advancing economic and social development in Hunan.
On August 9, 2006, ahead of Hunan Province’s Ninth Party Congress, Hunan’s provincial party committee racked up a national first, organizing a brainstorming event called “Inviting the Party Congress, Seeking New Development Together” (“迎接党代会，共谋新发展) on Hunan province’s official Internet portal, seeking the views and opinions of the general population through the Internet and encouraging Web users to think actively about economic development in Hunan.
On February 15, 2007, Zhang Chunxian made a post on Rednet.cn called “I wish Internet users a Happy Chinese New Year and offer my best regards through Rednet! This brought rave reviews from Internet users, who gathered round and cheered. By the evening of February 19, the post had had around 40,000 views and 400 responses from Web users. Hundreds of websites gave a great deal of attention to this event.
On July 23, 2008, a Web user made a post called “Voice of the People” on Rednet saying they hoped the provincial party committee would demolish a smokestack in the committee office complex that was belching out black smoke. When Zhang Chunxian became aware of this opinion, he made this tiny smokestack a major matter . . . and demolished the smokestack without hesitation. The smokestack was demolished 10 days later, and Zhang Chunxian even went to the scene to witness the demolition himself.