Mobile phones make politics more accessible to Chinese

March 14th, 2008 - 10:31 am ICT by admin  

Beijing, March 14 (Xinhua) When the New York Times applauded in 2005 the “Super Girl” TV show hosted by China Hunan Satellite TV, which drew 40 million Chinese to vote for their favourite singers through mobile phone text messages as a prelude to “voting democracy”, some believed the American newspaper might have misinterpreted an entertainment event as a political matter. However, during this year’s annual full sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top legislature and advisory body, people found that mobile phones have really got a role to play in promoting “democracy with Chinese characteristics”.

“For several consecutive days, we were seeing a dozen mobile phone messages coming in every second through our platform,” said Xu, a staff with China Mobile, who asked to be identified only by her surname. “Surprisingly, all the questions were addressed to Premier Wen Jiabao.”

By Tuesday, a campaign called “Ask the Premier”, jointly launched by and China Mobile for their 100 million plus mobile phone users, had collected over 250,000 short messages, a substantial portion of which were from blue-collars, farmers and students.

The Chinese government encourages grass-root citizens to “orderly participate in politics” to expand democracy, according to Beijing-based political observers.

While delivering a keynote report to the 17th National Congress of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) last October, Chinese President Hu Jintao, also general-secretary of the CPC Central Committee, stressed the necessity to “expand orderly participation in politics through every level and in every field.”

For the first time in history, safeguarding the people’s “right to expression” was included in the report to the Party Congress. “Political democracy would not be possible without the active participation of citizens in politics,” said Beijing-based political expert Yu Keping.

As information and network technologies take great leaps forward these days, mobile phone messages are becoming a new way for the Chinese to participate in politics, in addition to the traditional way of direct voting at grass-root level.

A leading figure in China’s political research circle, Yu Keping has gained fame both at home and abroad through his theories on the country’s democracy development, including “incremental democracy” and “participation of citizens in politics”, which was neither the traditional concept of democracy endorsed in China, nor a duplication of Western democracy codes.

Compared with the Internet, a key channel for the intellectuals to participate in politics, the mobile phone represents a more widespread and grass-root tool for average Chinese citizens.

The country boasts the largest mobile phone user population in the world, with over 40 percent of its 1.3 billion people owning a mobile phone. Even in the remote autonomous region of Tibet, 27 of every one hundred people possess a mobile phone.

A survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences shows that today’s China doesn’t suffer a lack of opinions or ideas, but the channels for the people to express them.

Compared with traditional ways such as mail, telephone, publication and face-to-face talks, new media like the mobile phone are the most cost-effective, fast-spreading, convenient and straightforward way for the general public to voice their opinions.

An earlier survey on “hot topics for this year’s NPC and CPPCC sessions” jointly conducted by and other online portals shows that CPI, housing, and health care attracted most public attention.

“‘Premier, would you please give more attention to Hepatitis B patients and HBV carriers?’ ‘I wish that teachers in the rural areas could get a pay rise,’ - the messages from the mobile phone users are often more candid and straight to the point.

Gao Gang of the Renmin University of China said: for a country with a large population and vast territory like China, the Internet technology has transcended the traditional boundaries of communication in terms of time and space. “This is of great significance.”

Gao said the free flow of information and political expressions are the basis for the people to reach consensus and achieve harmony, which opened up a new chapter in China’s development of socialist democratic politics.

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