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At Mao-style conclave, China embraces Twitter age

Associated Press Modified: November 13, 2012 at 11:46 am •  Published: November 13, 2012
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BEIJING (AP) — During China's last party congress, the cadres in charge of the world's most populous nation didn't know a hashtag from a hyperlink. But five years on, there's a new message from Beijing: The political transition will be microblogged.

Party officials have this fall embraced social media with unprecedented enthusiasm, hoping it can help guide public opinion and stir up excitement about the staid and scripted party meeting taking place this week in Beijing that kicks off a transition to a new, younger set of top leaders.

Dozens of the more than 2,000 party delegates, among them Chairman Mao's grandson, are using social media to wax rhapsodic about China's rise and Party General Secretary Hu Jintao's live 90-minute reading of highlights from this year's party work report. Typical posts include pictures of grinning delegates on Tiananmen Square and mobile snapshots of poinsettia arrangements and chandeliers from inside the Great Hall of the People, where the congress is meeting.

Guo Mingyi, a miner from the frigid northeast who was making his debut as a party delegate, posted, "On this land with great affections, how can I not sing, how can I not tear up, I love this piece of land, the people and the great Chinese Communist Party!"

State media also are posting microblog interviews with officials and shooting out updates about the congress schedule.

Twitter and Facebook have been blocked by the government since they were instrumental in anti-government protests in Iran two years ago. Instead, the government has encouraged homegrown alternatives in the apparent belief that they would be more responsive to its demands. China's main Twitter-like microblogging site Sina Weibo now has more than 300 million registered users.

But apart from being a tool to deliver Beijing's approved policy messages to the mobile phones of ordinary Chinese, the Internet has become a two-way street that's also being used by the public to poke fun at and critique the propaganda. Online commentators have compared the gushy crying and clapping of some delegates over Hu's speech to North Korean-style mass hysteria.

Responding to state media reports about how a female delegate, Li Jian, cried five times at Hu's work report, a Sina Weibo user writing under the name "Buying Soysauce" wrote: "I sobbed uncontrollably too, at the thought that these people were my compatriots."

Wang Keqin, the assistant to the editor-in-chief of Beijing's Economic Observer magazine, wrote about the tears of another delegate, He Guiqin, "It's back to North Korea overnight!"

Other critics have dredged up old headlines from 1987 about the scourge of bribe-seeking and posted them online to highlight how little party rhetoric, and party problems, have changed despite major social change over the last three decades.

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