Earlier this month Lady Gaga became the first person on Twitter to reach 10 million followers.
In addition to promoting her latest hit songs, Lady Gaga also devotes her Twitter time to political causes. In a much-publicised message in September she urged people to call Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, and demand that he schedule a vote on legislation to end the military’s ban on openly gay soldiers. More recently, she rallied her fans to e-mail State Senator Mark Grisanti of Buffalo and ask that he support making same-sex marriage legal in New York State.
But if Gaga is the Queen of Twitter, her counterpart in China is unquestionably Yao Chen.
Yao’s Sina Weibo (the country’s Twitter-equivalent) has 9.1 million followers. And she has also started to use the microblogging service to lobby against perceived injustices – although in her case they are closer to home. On Friday, the actress posted on Weibo saying that her aunt in Hunan had attempted to commit suicide amid a land-compensation dispute, the People’s Daily reported.
Yao said her aunt took rat poison after being put under house arrest for petitioning against what she considered an unfair payout for her home in Chaling, which was to be seized in order to build a reservoir.
“My heartbroken mother, who was crying when she called me, asked if I know anyone in Beijing that could say something? I told my mother: sorry Ma, I don’t know anyone…”
Protests against forced evictions – which are often struggles over compensation – are a leading source of social unrest. Chinese newspapers (and WiC alike) are filled with stories of powerless homeowners or occupants driven out by officials keen to cash in on the country’s property boom.
Yao’s post has another uncomfortable message that won’t please the propaganda department: at a time when the Party is about to celebrate its 90th birthday and its egalitarian roots, she implies in her post that in China, you can’t get anything done without high-level political connections.
But Yao seems to have less conviction than Lady Gaga when it comes to political statements. Within hours she took the controversial weibo posting down. By then, it had been forwarded 1,500 times and received 1,100 comments. Yao claims that she removed the post not because of fears of upsetting the government, but because she was concerned about the safety of her family.
“Since I started on Weibo I have forwarded countless posts about social injustice, many of which were demolition-related. Never did I hesitate or worry about the political implications,” Yao wrote on Sina Weibo on Monday. “Two days ago I deleted a post about the demolition of a home. I did that not because I was afraid, but because my family was worried.”
But that didn’t quell the criticism. Oriental Morning Post thought it was ironic that the country’s Queen of Weibo couldn’t translate her popularity into any real power. “Of the 9 million plus people that follow you in Weibo, you don’t know even one person that could help. This has to be the biggest joke.”
Others thought the message undermined Yao’s position at the UNHCR (the international organisation works with refugees and Yao serves as a patron for China).
“Couldn’t you have done more than just writing a weibo?” asks microblogger Cai Zhaoming.
“I don’t understand why some people would pose as the world’s goodwill ambassador but wouldn’t even help those closest to them.”
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