Move over, Wen Baobao (a nickname for China’s retiring premier Wen Jiabao). Xi Dada (which means ‘uncle’ in Shaanxi dialect) is now the most popular figure on Chinese weibo.
Back in November, a mysterious microblog appeared on Sina Weibo dedicated to documenting the daily agenda of China’s new leader Xi Jinping. But unlike the coverage from the official state media, the photographs show a more intimate side of Xi. The weibo – called Study Xi’s Fan Group – even picked up on his whereabouts before they were broadcast on state-run CCTV and Xinhua.
Also surprising is that the weibo showed pictures of Xi not released publicly before. In the first few weeks, the microblogger posted dozens of rare photographs of Xi and his family. One shows him as a child with his parents in the 1950s. Another shows him working as a “sent-down youth” during the Cultural Revolution in the 1970s. There is one of Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan, and another of him playing soccer.
Netizens were soon speculating as to the identity of the microblogger. Some thought it was someone within Xi’s inner circle, surreptitiously trying to humanise the leader under the guise of citizen journalism. Study Xi’s Fan Group has already accumulated 1.2 million followers.
So who is the author?
The weibo turned out to be the brainchild of a college dropout and migrant worker, Zhang Hongming, who revealed his identity in February. Zhang explained that he started the microblog simply because he is a diehard fan of China’s new leader and intent on making him more accessible to the people at large.
“I’m just an ordinary netizen, an ordinary working class…I’m not a Party member, nor an official. I have absolutely nothing to do with Xi’s team. All information and pictures are from the internet, some from local fans,” says Zhang, adding, that like other foreign dignitaries in this day and age, China’s leaders should have an online following.
So is it time for Xi’s official weibo?
Zhang’s fan weibo, meanwhile, prompted discussion in the media as to whether it is time for China’s most powerful man to become part of what is arguably the country’s most powerful communication tool.
“[Xi opening a weibo account] is the right way to go so that he can truly see how his people have been living and truly hear the people’s voices,” one netizen wrote.
Southern Weekend also reckons that it is important for leaders to embrace the internet. “The Party and the government have regained the internet microphone to a large degree,” the newspaper says. “And they’ve regained the… right of speech on breaking news and on sensitive topics.”
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