Meeting China's 'Netizens'

By Michael Leavitt (Secretary of US Health & Human Services)
Updated: 2007-12-16 10:59

In a compact Beijing studio on Monday, Li Xing, the International News Editor of China Daily had questions for me. She asked me about meeting a little girl in western China who had contracted the H5N1 avian influenza virus. We then talked about import-safety agreements with the Chinese governments and the availability of health insurance to U.S. citizens. The questions she asked for more than a half-hour were not just her curiosities, but rather questions e-mailed from China Daily's online readers whom she refer to as netizens.

I like the concept of netizens. I have to admit, I hadn't thought much about the term until Li Xing used it. We are citizens of nations but also find ourselves members of global communities connected not by geographic boundaries but our collective interests and passions. When I saw a stream of questions filling Li Xing's computer screen from some of the estimated 10 million China Daily-reading netizens located all over the world, the term was abruptly given more meaning.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt (L) is interviewed by Li Xing, chief of the International Department of China Daily at the office in Beijing December 10, 2007. Leavitt is in Beijing for the China-US Strategic Economic Dialogue. []

As we talked, two studio-quality digital video cameras streamed our conversation over the Web. Our words were simultaneously transcribed into text. The next day China Daily's print edition published an article summarizing our interview. That is a combination of digital mediums with serious reach and the capacity to interactively engage people.

I've become a novice blogger. I started a few months ago. My first effort was a blog related to pandemic flu. The input we received from netizens (though we didn't refer to them as such) was remarkably good and persuaded me to spend more time exploring different combinations of media as public policy tools.

In the space of an hour, my encounter with Li Xing and her colleagues at China Daily elevated my thinking some. It seems possible I should be embarrassed not to have realized this before. I suspect there are 26-year-old netizens reading this saying, “Where has this guy been?” Well, despite what most would call a pretty good technology pedigree, the term netizen and its sociologic potential just eluded me.

During our conversation I told Li Xing about my blogging adventure. She volunteered to tell China Daily's netizens about it. I hope she will because I want to continue the discussion I started with Li Xing and her ten million friends. I have a lot to learn about good netizenship.

For those who linked here through China Daily, it might be helpful for me to tell you about my blog.

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