A little bird tells us transparent governance is the new fad

By Huang Hung (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-03-23 10:35
Large Medium Small

In China people tweet on t.sina.com.cn and among the most avid tweeters is "Minister Wu". Yes, for real, he is a government official, but not quite ministerial ranking.

A little bird tells us transparent governance is the new fad

Still, a government official who openly tweets is a novelty here and naturally, Minister Wu - as he is affectionately referred to by fellow tweeters - has many fans and is one of the most read twitters across the land.

Minister Wu is the deputy director of the publicity department of Yunnan province. He openly supports government transparency and presses for monitoring of government behavior. I am not sure whether this has won him friends within government circles (probably not) but he has found support on the Internet.

Minister Wu is a conscientious official. He said he returned home during Chinese New Year without asking his local authority for help with transportation and a train ticket. His wife called him "stupid" but he was quite proud of himself for acting like a civil servant should.

This anecdote received a lot of attention on the Internet. Some applauded him for his exceptional behavior, others thought he was just putting on a show. The reaction was a litmus test of the credibility of government officials, but I am not sure how the real Minister of Publicity would rate such spontaneous surveys.

I began to notice Minister Wu just two weeks ago. He was banning some nasty tweets, but in a spirit of transparency he announced the ban before he actually deleted the comments. Is this transparency? Is this democracy? Or is this just another gimmick to get some attention?

Actually, it's a distorted debate. The tweet is his private space and banning profanity is quite different from preventing the press from criticizing the government. Telling people their tweets will be banned does not make the action more transparent - just complicated. Still, I think it's good that a government official can share his ideas on the Internet. It is a step toward transparency, if not of the government, at least of Minister Wu.

A little bird tells us transparent governance is the new fad

Even so, last week, a tweet of his annoyed me greatly. He was super happy about making Yunnan the center for Chinese animation.

"Where other provinces failed, Yunnan will succeed!" he proclaimed.

I have heard this before. Eventually, these animation centers all turn into high priced real estate projects. I asked the good Minister what competitive advantage Yunnan had to make it a successful center for animation. He answered with bravado: "Creativity and Freedom!"

Hmmm ... never mind, Minister Wu, one step at a time.

(Huang Hung is an opinionator on arts, lifestyle and show biz.)