(English) Keeping Up with Public Opinon In China – The Party’s Dilemma

image from www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca How does the Chinese public know what it thinks?  My own characterization of the last 30 years posits three stages of evolution:

1) from the Communist Party and government institutions telling the population what to think,

to 2) telling them what they'd like them to think,

to 3) telling them what they are thinking. 

This latest stage coincides with the now ubiquitous activity of public opinion surveys in the PRC.

The Communist Party does not see itself as omniscient.  It actively needs to get a read on the population and balance public attitudes and perceptions against the Party's own interests.  Since the Party's basic interest is the retention of power and social stability, it can use public opinionto  engage in a dialogue of sorts with the public.  But assessing public opinion is getting harder these days, and it moves at a faster pace than traditional polling can sometimes keep up with.

The China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong provided a translation of a very insightful article that explains how the Party and government agencies believe public opinion can sometimes be a crisis.  The crisis articulated in the article is one of ability to react to meet or confront the opinion.  The root of this is the manner in which opinion can be expressed via the internet or mobile phones – general word of mouth.  Consensus for action among a subset of the population can be reached before the Party and government even understand the root cause.

image from www.fofg.org I found this all the more interesting in light of a speech given by Hu Jintao that Drew Thompson of the Nixon Center wrote about in his most recent paper on responses to refugee crises in the PRC.  In the paper, Drew highlights the new emergency response planning that China has implemented which I connect to mass issue incidents that are directly related to crises of public opinion.

While I have moments of viewing this evolution with optimism and pessimism, it is, of course, only half the story because public opinion expressed through surveys and digital communication reflects only the urban and sub-urban population mindset.  There are still another 600 Million individuals who don't have the same benefit of voice that the 700 Million wired/wireless population has. 

To Be Continued….

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