China's government agencies and officials seem to have been struck by micro-blogging fever.
The number of verified government-run micro-blog accounts on Sina Weibo, China's leading Twitter-like micro-blogging service, stood at nearly 20,000 at the end of October 2011, according to a report released by Sina Weibo and the Web portal People.com.cn on December 12, 2011. The figure was 5,000 at the beginning of the year.
"If we regard 2010 as the beginning of the micro-blogging boom in China, 2011 can be said to have ushered in the era of government micro-blogging in the country," said Chen Tong, Editor in Chief of Sina, at the 2011 Government Micro-blogging Summit. In addition to Sina Weibo, Sina also runs China's largest online news portal.
"These government micro-blogs have enabled direct interaction between government departments, officials and Sina Weibo's 250 million registered users," Chen said. "The micro-blog is micro by virtue of its 140-Chinese-character-per-post limit, but it is macro in terms of its impact on public affairs."
GOING ONLINE: Officials launch the micro-blog of the Higher People's Court of Henan Province on July 7, 2011 (ZHAO PENG)
The first official government micro-blog in China was registered by the provincial government of southwest China's Yunnan Province on Sina Weibo in November 2009, soon after the website went online.
Since then, more and more government agencies and officials have joined the micro-blogging community. The rapid growth of government micro-blogs is in fact changing the whole dynamic of the relationship between the government and the public in China, which has the world's largest population of Internet users, 500 million, and more than 300 million micro-bloggers.
In a seminar on October 15, 2011, Wang Chen, Minister of the State Internet Information Office, suggested that government departments and officials use micro-blogs more frequently to release authorized information in a timely manner and step up service-oriented communication with the public.
"The government used to distance itself from ordinary people and usually issued only directives and commands. Ordinary people had little or no chance to have themselves heard by senior officials. But now the government is willing to listen to public complaints and is becoming better at interacting with Internet users," said Wang Yukai, a professor at the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Governance (CAG).
On November 28, 2011,the Shanghai Municipal Government launched its micro-blog, called Shanghai City, on Sina Weibo. Within two weeks, the micro-blog, officially verified as originating from the Information Office of the Shanghai Municipal Government (IOSMG), already had more than 410,000 followers.
In addition to Sina Weibo, the Shanghai Municipal Government also opened accounts on other major Chinese micro-blogging websites, and in total they have attracted more than 1 million followers.
The Shanghai City micro-blog covers everything from vegetable prices and weather forecasts to permanent residence registration policies and creative recipes.
"The aim of the Shanghai City micro-blog is to release prompt authoritative government information, provide practical information to local residents, interact with netizens and respond immediately to the most hotly debated social issues," said Zhu Yonglei, Director of the IOSMG.