CHINA / Regional

County mayor solicits advice at popular online community
By You Shanshan (The Southern Weekend)
Updated: 2006-04-14 10:28

"Hello to everybody! I am Fu Rong, the county mayor of the People's Government of Lingao county."

The county mayor of Lingao county, Hainan province, used this as the introduction in his headlong plunge into an Internet forum.

Fu Yong, Lingao county mayor, who seeks candid advice and opinion from netizens at famous Hainan-based Tianya Club. Fu joins the forum without using a sock puppet. [file photo]
It is nothing new that government officials get on the Internet to read about current affairs, and they even "submerged under water" (anonymously and/or without announcing their presence) at the various Internet forums.

But such a direct public disclosure of identify must be the first in history of Chinese BBS history, according to the chief-editor of the famous Tianya Club forum.

This county mayor who went on the Internet to chat without using a sock puppet experienced a level of government-citizen interaction hitherto unseen.

Is this person really a county mayor?

On March 8, a netizen with ID "Fu Yong" entered the Lingao page of the Hainan section of the Tianya Club forum. He used the title "Welcome netizens to offer opinions and advice to the Lingao county government" in a post in which he proclaimed that he was the county mayor.

He wrote: "I am delighted to become Internet friends with people from various sectors of society who care and support Lingao and offer constructive advice. In the future, I will come here regularly to communicate with Internet friends. I welcome everybody to offer opinions and advice to me and my government."

The Lingao page was not exactly popular and it has only very few visitors. At first, the dozens of netizens who read the post were astonished. "Is this really the county mayor?" Or else because they were unsure, nobody threw "bricks" at "Fu Yong."

"Fu Yong" then published his mobile telephone number and he wrote: "You can call the mobile telephone number anytime. I have enough battery power."

So all kinds of talk arose. Some people were just flat out incredulous. Some welcomed him. Some called him a show-off. Some just took it straight and offered their opinions.

The workers at the Hainan section at Tianya Club immediately proceeded to verify the true identity of this "Fu Yong." The process of verification was extremely simple. At the end of December 2005, pursuant to the recommendation of Hainan county party secretary Jiang Hua'an, the mobile telephones of both Jiang Hua'an and Fu Yong were published on the county television station.

To verify the identify of "Fu Yong," all one has to do is to call the telephone of the "real county mayor" "Fu Yong" or check the published number with the county government office.

At the same time, the netizens started their own investigation. Netizen ID "Miaomiaoqiushui" made this record: "I was brash enough to call the number of the person known as "Fu Yong" on the Internet. After speaking a few sentences, he said that he was busy and he would call me back. Afterwards, he called me back and explained that he had been in a meeting earlier. Then we chatted a while further."

The investigation took only two days.

On March 10, the Lingao forum master Xi Hong used red letters to annotate Fu Yong's post: "ID Fu Yong is a true identity. We have confirmed with friends in the Lingao government and the secretary of the county mayor. The mobile telephone posted on the Internet is also true. We hope that everybody would offer honest opinions and chat in a civilized manner. Thank you for your cooperation!"

But then the netizens began to speculate on the background of county mayor Fu Yong.

Netizen ID "Richuxishanzhidian" looked up the Fu family genealogy and determined: Fu Yong was born in Guhuo village, his parents were peasants, he had been a mayor of the town of Bohou in Lingao county and he had been accused of corruption.

This assertion was quickly negated by many other netizens. Someone pointed out that county mayor Fu Yong used to work in Qingbian county in Hainan province and was transferred to Lingao last year. Therefore, "Richuxishanzhidian" had been mistaken.

Fu Yong told our reporter: He was born in Wencheng city, Hainan province. His father was one of the first labor model workers in the nation, and his mother was one of the first Female Red Flag Carriers of the nation, and they were in the hotel business for many years.

Fu Yong had fought in the War of Defense and Counterattack against Vietnam and received a grade two battle citation. After being transferred to Qingbian county in Hainan province, he had been a member of the county party standing committee, assistant to the county mayor, secretary to the political and legal committee and the deputy county mayor. In July 2005, he was elected the county mayor of Lingao.

"Fu Yong, I am only going to treat you like an ordinary Internet friend. I don't care if you are the county mayor or not, because I don't rely on the county mayor to make my living," so wrote netizen ID Kung Fu in one post about his attitude towards Fu Yong. This is how most of the people in the virtual world treated county mayor Fu Yong. Apart from "County Mayor," the netizens have all sorts of variations in how they called him: ID Fu Yong, Fu Yong, Mister Fu and Brother Yong.

As for Fu Yong's attitude towards the netizens, it was that of a humble latecomer to the Internet.

Since taking the job at Lingao county, Fu Yong has continued to live in a suite with his driver in a government hostel. The notebook computer sits on the desk in this bedroom. On the bedroom wall, he hangs a table of the strokes used in typing words. Fu Rong has made a major effort in memorizing those strokes, but his typing speed is still very slow today.

When impatient netizens do not get a response from Fu Yong, they often complain about "not being able to wait for an eternity" and "that was an eunuch post." Fu Yong has to admit: he is too busy at work, he often only gets to look at the forum posts after midnight for about an hour or so, and he types far too slowly.

When Fu Yong responded to questions from netizens, he did not like to continue the thread; instead, he opened up a new thread. This showed that his online experience was raw, and made him the object of sarcasm and "lectures" from other netizens. Netizen ID Miaomiaoqiushui once "chided" the county mayor: "For the sake of the space, will the county mayor please start fewer new posts? There is no need to always start another new post!! Perhaps you might have started at a BBS the first time and you don't understand. The Internet has its own rules."

"Thank you for your instruction!" In later replies, Fu Yong learned to follow the thread.

ID Kung Yu came out to defend Fu Yong: "ID Fu Yong is a new netizen friend . We should accept with tolerance his enthusiasm and sincerity and we should let him slowly integrate into the virtual world. The friends of the Lingao page should appreciate the childhood awakening stage of the networked computer life of ID Fu Yong."

On March 10, Fu Yong posted a message on the forum to the netizens for assistance to set up a "county mayor mailbox." The netizens thought that he wanted to apply for an email account and asked for help from netizens because he did not know how to do so. All of a sudden, chaos broke out all over the forum. On one hand, some netizens thought that it was funny that the county mayor had no idea how to apply for an email account.

On the other hand, other people listed the detailed steps for Fu Yong to go through with the application, including leaving their telephone number in case he had more questions. Some people even went ahead and obtained an email account on behalf of Fu Yong.

Finally, netizen ID Lingao Lighthouse asked: "Does the county mayor mean that he wants to set up a special post for the county mayor?" At that point, Fu Yong sighed in relief and said; "Right! What I meant was to start a special column for the county mayor or a hotline to the county mayor."

On the same day, the "Interactive County Mayor" column was started. All posts from Fu Yong went into that column.

As the leader of the county, Fu Yong was able to genuinely experience the exchange with county residents on equal terms. From being distrusted to being trusted, from being misunderstood to being understood, Fu Yong began to feel the warmth of being accepted after being a "latecomer" and he also felt that he has made some friends.

"Those people who communicate with me in person tend to remember that I am the county leader. On the Internet, there is no barrier and no restraints. Some people call me brother and other people call me directly by my name. This zero-distance contact allows me to hear their true voices."

On the afternoon of March 16, Tianya Club moved the initial post of Fu Yong under this real name to the top of the home page of the entire community. County mayor Fu Yong immediately took the sparsely visited Lingao page directly in front of the whole nation.

On March 17, Fu Yong was interviewed on the Tianya Club community, and his fame grew. Even some media outside Hainan began to report on him. The Fu Yong post went from the original several hundred viewings to several tens of thousands, with several hundred comments. The Hainan section of Tianya Club also became popular.

On March 20, the Hainan Daily newspapers published an article "Welcome the county mayor to make such a 'show'" and gave Fu Yong a positive review. The celebrity blog also issued an invitation to Fu Yong: "The blogger section is the most widespread and progressive front for ideas on the Internet, and it would be incomplete without an exceptional figure such as county leader Fu Yong."

Very quickly, Fu Yong became an Internet celebrity and a star government official.

Fame created many surprises and pressures for Fu Yong, who could feel a tremendous burden in the face of his superior officials and the masses.

He said with some misgiving: "This was not the first time that I used my name to get on the Internet."

Everything will have to begin with the current situation in Lingao county.

Lingao county has a coastline of 71 kilometers and it has the largest number of fishing boats in Hainan province. According to People Net, among the twenty counties and cities in Hainan, Lingao ranked only number nine in terms of GDP. In the words of Fu Yong, this is a "economically undeveloped area."

On February 20 this year, the former Lingao county secretary was sentenced to thirteen years in jail for extortion and accepting bribes. Wu Guanghua was also guilty of selling official positions for money.

Fu Yong denied that the "transparent government" advocated by himself and the current county secretary Jiang Hua'an was intended to change the bad image of the Lingao party and government, and the netizens seemed to have good words for Jiang Hua'an and Fu Yong.

People seemed to have full confidence in this new country administration, which is very different from the scolding that the mention of Lingao automatically triggered in the past.

In order to link up with Lingao residents currently living outside of Hainan, Jiang Hua'an and Fu Yong went last August to Guangzhou to participate in a Guangdong area forum of Lingao residents. At the meeting, Fu Yong promised that he will bring the average annual income of Lingao residents up to 4,000 RMB within five years. At the same meeting, he found out that the Lingao people in the Pearl River Delta had set up a "Lingao People Net" website. After returning to Lingao, Fu Yong entered the Lingao People Net under his real name, he sought advice, he searched for talents and he communicated information.

So Fu Yong got his results first at the Lingao People Net under his real name. But the influence of the Lingao People Net was limited to the people of Lingao living in the Pearl River Delta, and some of those people had already met Fu Yong in person. Therefore, ID Fu Rong did not cause any controversy. Later on, when he saw the Lingao page at Tianya Club, Fu Rong naturally did the same thing. He emphasized that his decision had the full support of secretary Jiang Hua'an.

Netizen ID Rexuefengbei was the first one to "pour cold water" on Fu Yong. He believed that the county mayor cannot solve too many problems. If anything, he will become confused by the uneven language and complex and muddled viewpoints on the Internet. Even netizen ID Kung Fu, whom Fu Yong regarded as his friends, has advised him: "The Internet is virtual, and the water is sometimes muddy. Actually, you did not have to jump into this water." These two posts are the ones that Fu Rong remembers the most, but he is not willing to abandon the Internet.

On the morning of July 6, Fu Yong became the county mayor of Lingao. That afternoon, he was forced to be in court for a land dispute case in which the masses sued the government. "At the time I thought that this would be the best way: the government and the people face each other and let the matter be settled by legal channels."

While being interviewed by our reporter, Fu Rong repeatedly mentioned that it was county party secretary Jiang Hua'an who was working so hard to make sure that the government interact with the people. The "County Mayor Interaction" column at the Lingao page at Tianya Club is one of the many forms of the conversation.

But not everybody was confident about the Internet presence of Fu Yong. A netizen wrote: "In Lingao at least, there has never ever been an 'official' who was beloved by the people. The lives of the people of Lingao has never changed on account of a particular 'official.' Whether this is a donkey or a horse, we will find out if we take it out for a walk."

Fu Yong is now taking this walk seriously.

For example, netizens demand that the operational status of the educational foundation be disclosed. Fu Yong then published the financial procedures, constitution and organizational structure of the Lingao educational foundation at the Lingao forum.

For example, netizens pointed out the educational resources are scarce. Fu Yong said that the county party and government will hire 100 new teachers, invest 50 million RMB and eliminate dangerous school buildings. There has also been a "One RMB" donation program which has taken in more than 200 million RMB already, all of which will be used to assist children in poverty.

For example, netizens pointed out that public safety is chaotic, with serious crimes such as narcotics and robberies. On the afternoon of March 19, county party secretary Jiang Hua'an organized government leaders and justice department leaders to study the problem of public safety. At the same time, the decision was made to allocate 1 million RMB per year for the narcotic problem.

Under the prodding of Fu Yong, the Lingao Department of Education also became active on the Internet. On March 9, the Lingao Department of Education director's email address appeared on the Lingao page at Tianya Club. The post claimed: "Do you have any opinions or advice on the development of education in our county? Please send your valuable plans and recommendations to the email box of the director of the Department of Education."

"I am not stupid. I obviously know that not every recommendation is a good recommendation, and that not every problem is a real problem." Fu Rong said with a laugh. "The concerns of the Internet friends when they advise me not to get on the Internet are unnecessary." But he has firmly declined the hope by the Internet friends for him to become the forum master at the "County Leader Interaction" column. "It is mainly an issue of available time."

Amidst the praises, there was certainly the expression of the happiness that Lingao county has an open-minded county mayor. But there are also netizens who have raised Fu Rong's Internet activities to the level of "democratic progress" and "electronic political administration."

Fu Yong does not think so himself. As Fu Yong sees it, asking for opinion on the Internet is not true electronic political administration.

"I have a very simple purpose for using my real name to get on the Internet. This is another channel of collecting citizen opinions." Fu Yong explained. "The Internet is not the only form, but it is a new form. In the past, one organized forums, one went down to the rural villages and one met with the people in order to get their opinions. Very often, the people had worries and they did not dare speak what they wanted to say. When they wrote letters of complaint, they only signed 'a group of cadres.'"

When Fu Yong was in the military, he was responsibility for running the division enterprise. As such, he can be considered a business person. He felt that it was very efficient to obtain opinions on the Internet with his real name, because it takes a long time to investigate (openly or undercover). "Through the Internet, people can bring out their problems. I learn about the problems, and I can try to understand it. It saves a lot of time and effort. Furthermore, if the masses can reflect their problems to me over the Internet, it saves them the trouble of coming down to the county government office to cry and complain every day. This increases productivity and it saves time for people."

Although netizens suggest that he can listen to opinions while being "submerged under water" without exposing himself, Fu Yong insisted that this was impossible without revealing his identity.

Since becoming a celebrity, Fu Yong has many more eyes watching him.

He knows that the chances of being scolded has increased. If he does not reply to a comment, he will be scolded for being a fake. If he cannot solve a problem, he will be scolded for being a fake. If his solution is poor, he will be scolded for being a fake. "If they want to scold me, they can," he said. "The reason why they scold me is not due to the Internet. Even if the Internet does not exist, the people will scold me if they are not satisfied with me, and I won't even have the opportunity to explain then. Right now, at least I have the chance of communicating with them. Once we communicate, they may not want to scold me."

Ever since his identity was confirmed, Fu Yong never received any nuisance calls on his mobile telephone, and there have been no irrational abuser at the forum. The editor of the Hainan section of Tianya Club admitted that she was surprised that the netizens treated Fu Yong so gently. Forums have often been regarded as the places for emotional catharses, which often run out of control. But at the Lingao page, the netizens took matters seriously and solemnly.

Fu Yong thinks that maybe the fact that he used his real name caused the netizens to deal with him honestly and sincerely.

The executive editor Daxuefengshan at Tianya Club thought back to the beginning of the year when the Tianya Club netizens were making angry posts about how the students of Xi'an could not get train tickets to go home during the Chinese Spring Festival. At the time, Xi'an city mayor Sun Qingwen saw those posts and ordered the relevant departments to solve this problem rapidly.

When the posts in praise of Sun Qingwen appeared at Tianya Club, the editors did not see the "anticipated" "flying bricks" -- 80% of the posts were praises and encouragements.

The Tianya Club Hunan section editor Hu Bin reflected: "The netizens do not all hate government officials. If there is a good official, people will support him/her. This is what the harmonious society should be."

Fu Yong understands his relationship with netizen friends in the same manner. "In the final analysis, behind each virtual name, there is also a real person," said Fu Yong.