A scandal broke out in China on July 14 when web users alleged that two ordinary citizens in the city of Chengdu selected randomly to take part in public hearings on government policy were in fact “professional actors.” By July 15 the story had boiled over into traditional media, and four alleged government-backed “citizens” were the focus of angry questioning. Sichuan’s Huaxi Metropolis Daily, one of the province’s biggest commercial newspapers, reported that “citizen” Zhang Jianyuan (张见远) had appeared in numerous media reports about public hearings on various policy issues, always with a fake identity. While Zhang has been identified as “a chief physician at Huaxi Hospital” (华西医院主任医师), an investigation by the newspaper showed that he is not listed among that hospital’s more than 7,000 registered personnel. He has reportedly participated in scores of public hearings, beggaring government claims that citizens are randomly selected to voice their views on various policies. He has responded to such issues as public transportation pricing, water prices, anti-smoking policies, and adjustments in taxi fares, and media reports have variously dubbed him a “citizen representative”, a “consumer representative” and a “physician representative.” Another focus of attention was been Hu Litian (胡丽天), pictured below, a woman whose “rate of selection,” web users say, has been remarkable given the government’s random selection policy. Hu, it seems, is something of a permanent fixture at government public hearings. Read more about the scandal here.
In the above cartoon, posted by artist Kuang Biao (邝飚) to his blog at QQ.com, a tea kettle resembling Hu Litian and labeled “expert public hearing [participant” is set down on an empty seat at a public hearing, ready to whistle the government’s tune.