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Surveys suggest that falls are the primary cause of death for seniors 65-and-over in China. Taking care of the young as well as the aged is regarded as a virtue and a serious responsibility in traditional Chinese culture. The recent "Peng Yu Case," however, has led to public caution in helping elderly who take falls. The case concerned a senior citizen named Xu Shoulan who fractured her hip after being knocked to the ground at a crowded bus stop. Peng Yu, an innocent bystander, rushed her to the hospital but was later accused of pushing her and ordered to pay compensation for her injury. This case and a number of similar incidents became hot topics in China. To clear up the confusion and encourage people to help elderly in distress, the Ministry of Health released the "Technical Guide to Helping Elderly Who Fall" on September 6, 2009. This document, widely read thanks to its online publication, contributed to the easing of the public morality crisis.

The website of the Wuwei municipal government in Gansu Province has also become an example of clarifying facts and stopping the spread of rumors. An example is the recent local gossip that the city's civil servant recruitment process was unfair and favored candidates with rich and powerful parents. It resulted from Jiao Sanniu, a graduate in English from Tsinghua University, being selected to serve as vice director of the Office of Overseas Chinese Affairs after passing rigorous examinations. Jiao was born into a peasant family in a village in Shanxi Province, but rumors had it that he was the son of a high-ranking official. The government website posted detailed information on selection criteria, and the rumors quickly dissipated.

Despite these examples of the Internet aiding transparency and accountability, websites can be a two-edged sword. If government websites respond slowly to incidents, they lose credibility. They need to respond quickly as well as accurately to the issues of the day. To play a role in influencing public sentiment, such websites need to be comprehensive and updated in a timely fashion.

Interactions Narrow the Gap

Due to the benefits of easy, real-time interaction, the Internet has radically changed the work methods and practices of many government departments. Nowadays, more and more government websites are changing the one-way approach through which websites publish and citizens read. Interaction is now the norm.

Online consultations, discussions and surveys have become standard on many government websites, which also change the layout and content of their sites according to people's recommendations. Many government agencies even document their daily workflow online to increase transparency.

Government websites have sought partnerships with commercial websites to initiate far-reaching programs and activities. For example, in 2011, the Ministry of Public Security initiated a drive called "My Favorite Police Heroes." The ministry's site featured a special page that ran feature stories on outstanding policemen as voted by the public. The stories also ran on popular websites such as,, and The drive had its intended effect of raising awareness among the public of China's real heroes.

These changes in the government's approach to the Internet have come in good time. According to Yu Guoming, a professor of media communications at Renmin University, in the age of the Internet and especially with the appearance of microblogging, preacher-style one-way communication has become inefficient. The primary factor determining the effectiveness of communication is emotional judgment, Yu says. Gaining the public's trust is paramount for private and public institutions alike.

As the first microblog account registered by a ministry, "Diplomatic Smarts" doesn't feature standard diplomatese; posts are light and often humorous. For example, in introducing Chinese followers to the country of Mauritius, the microblog quoted Mark Twain: "Mauritius was made first and heaven after: heaven was copied after Mauritius."

The post gained popularity online, and the blog added 40,000 followers in one week. This is a great example of eliminating the "formality barrier" between citizens and the government and bringing them closer.

Service Comes First

For many years, websites at all levels of government in China have attached importance to making government information public knowledge. Openness was further enhanced by the "Regulations of the PRC on Government Information Disclosure," which was enacted on April 5, 2007. Today, transparency is key.

On the website of the Ministry of Commerce, almost 100 percent of non-secret documents are available to be viewed. These cover policies, laws and regulations and statistics, as well as data garnered from international organizations. Transparency and openness have become the principle of the website.

The openness principle also applies to basic information about the ministry. The names of its leaders, a schematic diagram of its organizational structure, and the telephone and fax numbers of its departments are all accessible to visitors of the site.

In 2006, the Ministry of Commerce website released a total of 2.7 million pieces of information. With annual views at 7.2 billion, the websites is widely appreciated as an excellent resource for commercial information.

Wang Juan, an official of the Changsha municipal government in Hunan Province, sums up the government's attitude toward websites in the following way: Government websites need to release information faster than TV, radio and print media, and the information should be strictly examined to ensure its accuracy. Government websites should follow the principle of serving society and the people. Also, an evaluation system should be in place to judge sites on their performance.

The Changsha municipal government's website won first place among provincial capitals in the 2011 national evaluation of government website performance, timely disclosure of government information mentioned as one of its strong points. Wang's ideas on website management would seem to be sound.

The increasing openness and transparency of government business has deepened public understanding of state affairs. The increased online availability of information on personnel, finances, policies and regulations has not only helped government departments to provide more services directly to citizens, but also inspired greater trust in the government.


Xue Songyan is a doctorial candidate at the School of Journalism and Communication, Peking University.

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VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us