'Fans' fawn over China's new leader

 

Beijing, China

When Communist Party leader Xi Jinping made his first official trip outside the capital last weekend, to the prosperous southern province of Guangdong, his every movement was fawningly chronicled by a mysterious new microblog that seemed always one step - and many days — ahead of the official media.

The microblog, called the "Learning from Xi Fan Club," accurately reported Xi's travel plans, to Guangzhou, Shenzhen and other southern cities, well before the news was reported on state-run CCTV television, and days before the official news agency Xinhua, which waited to make any mention of the trip until this week, when the visit was complete.

The fan site posted rare early photographs of Xi and his family members — highly unusual in China, where the private lives of officials remain shrouded in secrecy. There are references to Xi's mottos and his favorite sports. And the site refers to the Communist Party's top leader by an affectionate nickname, "Pingping."

The founder of the site, who declined to give his true identity, claimed — in an online-only interview — that he is simply an ordinary "grass-roots person," and not a member of Xi's publicity or media team. "I'm a fan of the party secretary," he said. "I like him and support him."

But many here who study the media are unconvinced the site is the work of real "fans," saying it appears more like part of a well-oiled propaganda effort. With its professional style and use of standard journalism techniques, "It is definitely not from some ordinary grass-roots-level netizen," said Zhang Zhian, an expert with new media from Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University. He guessed the fan club, if not really the work of an ordinary follower, was either the work of the Party Central Committee's General Office, or reporters from Xinhua.

Whatever its origin, the microblog seems the most obvious example yet of how Xi and his handlers, just one month into the top job, are deftly trying to cultivate an image of a new, more accessible leader — a Chinese Everyman who eschews unnecessary pomp, travels in a van without a huge entourage, crosses the street only at designated intersections and enjoys common pursuits, such as playing soccer.

The online Xi fan club also shows how Xi and the other top leaders, newly elevated at the Party Congress which officially ended Nov. 14, seem more than their predecessors to understand the enormous power of the Internet, and particularly the hugely popular microblogging sites collectively known as "weibo," which in just three years has empowered ordinary Chinese with a voice and a new tool for holding corrupt local officials to account.

And rather than simply fighting weibo or trying to repress it, China's new leaders are also joining it and trying to shape it to their own ends.

"The party and the government have gained back the Internet microphone to a large degree," wrote the influential Guangdong-based newspaper Southern Weekly, known for its independent voice and liberal views. "And they've gained the dominant right of speech on breaking news and on sensitive topics."

As of the end of October, there were 60,000 government-registered "weibo" accounts, according to a report by Sina Weibo and the Public Opinion Monitoring Office of People's Daily, the Communist Party's main media mouthpiece. There were 20 official accounts of central government ministries, including the foreign, health and railways ministries, and 22 accounts held by provincial-level governments. Many local police branches also use their own weibo accounts.

Wang Yang, the reformist party secretary of Guangdong, who is being reassigned to Beijing, is known as an active blogger and weibo user. Zhang Chunxian, the party secretary in the restive Xinjiang region, is another avid weibo user, opening his personal account in 2011.

China's state-run mainstream media this week has been busily, and belatedly, hyping Xi's southern foray, comparing it to former leader Deng Xiaoping's famous 1992 trip along the same route, which served to consolidate China's commitment to economic reforms following the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

But the Xi fan club account — with its micro-coverage of the trip, and the old family photos — appears to take the party's use of social media to what would be, for China, an entirely new level. Many here have likened it to the kind of image-building now becoming standard in the U.S. political campaigns.

"Admittedly, this is still the propaganda," Zhang, the new media expert, said. But he called it "a much cleverer way, humanized and more respectful of journalistic values."

The fan club microblog first appeared Nov. 21 on Sina Weibo, the most popular of the Twitter-like microblogging sites, and now has more than 25,000 followers.

In the online interview, the founder of site said other world leaders, such as President Obama, have social media fan sites, so why not Xi? He declined to say how he gained access to Xi's schedule or to the rare childhood and family photos.

As Zhang put it, "They are bridging the gap with the Western world and learning from it, becoming more like the U.S."

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tv
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Battle of the Five Armies trailer released
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Extras
indybest
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Life and Style
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PMO Manager (Portfolio Management, ExCel, Cost Benefit Analysis)

£450 - £500 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: PMO Manager - 6 month co...

Microsoft Dynamics CRM Functional Consultant

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A Microsoft Dynamics CRM...

Senior BI Engineer (BI/MI, Data Mining)

£60000 - £65000 per annum + Bonus & Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior BI Enginee...

Retail Promotions Manager – TV and Film Catalogue

Up to £171 PAYE per day (equal to 40 – 45K ) : Sauce Recruitment: This is a te...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on