Yu Guoming on Internet politics

Yu Guoming is a vice-dean of the Renmin University School of Journalism and head of that university's Public Opinion Research Institute. He's been quoted in the English-language press on a number of recent issues involving speech on the Internet - the real name system for blogs, the Super Girl phenomenon, and the infringement lawsuit filed by The Beijing News against

Here's an interview with Yu from the 1 May issue of Globe magazine. Xinhua's magazines (Globe, Outlook and Oriental Outlook) have cut their web presence to next to nothing in recent months; an OCR'd version of the original article is available here.

Politics on the Internet

An interview with Yu Guoming by Xie Li / Globe

As technology like online video continues to develop, the Internet provides people with a new venue for discourse. Virtual spaces push open the once-solemn gate to politics.

Truth or miscellany - different online opinions seen from different perspectives, and which bring up different problems. To address this, the reporter interviewed Yu Guoming, head of the Public Opinion Research Institute at Renmin University.

Globe: The Internet is becoming ever more important for transmitting information and manufacturing public opinion. Some say that it strengthens the interaction and intercommunication between "the will of the state" and "the will of the people"; to what degree will this influence the development of political civilization?
Yu Guoming: Domestically as well as internationally, the Internet provides a platform for expression to people who lacked such channels in the past. All of the different possibilities the Internet holds out are still in the process of development, but we can know that at least these channels have already begun to influence the political environment.

In the past, public opinion had to pass through entities like legislatures or the media to be expressed. The Internet allows individuals to directly express their opinions about public policy or the government's administrative actions. The Internet collects these "micro-powers" into a force that cannot be ignored in today's society.

Globe: Has the openness of the Internet and the free transmission of speech to some degree made the task of government administration more difficult?
Yu: The Internet has caused a change in how the right to speech is distributed, implying that society has made a step forward. Governments and social administrators must both make an adjustment to adapt to this change. Administration requires making use of a new model of thinking and working; not a simple, one-note system of management, but rather proper leadership and healthy interaction.

Globe: Some people believe that online public opinion can speak for true public opinion. What is your view?
Yu: In the past, public opinion was collected through relatively simple means; it was distinguished by being an indirect response to a particular issue. Political discussion on the Internet, however, is beneficial to direct communication; there is a "spokesperson" (代言人) but at the same time, "direct speakers" (直言人) have increased greatly. However, netizens are not identical to the main body for public opinion, the general public. In addition, online surveys have a problem in that the identity of respondents cannot be confirmed. For this reason, from the strict social researcher's perspective, the current stage of online public opinion reflects public opinion in part, but it cannot truly represent public opinion.

Globe: Someone has said that online public opinion will bring with it disorder and will cause chaos.
Yu: A state of disorder is brought about by a great many reasons. On the one hand, some people are unaccustomed to seeing so many different opinions. They habitually belive that only supportive voices they agree with are ordered. Actually, this political attitude needs to be adjusted. On the other hand, it must be admitted that diverse participation is like a bustling bazaar, where chaos is unavoidable. Putting effective, scientific administration into practice is a process, and you must understand that development of Internet civilization takes place in the context of honing.

Globe: In China, netizens have turned into an ever-growing group of people, and the online access rate is also very high. Do you think that in an open information age, the government should take measures to better utilize the online "field of public opinion"?
Yu: What is reflected on the Internet has become an ever more important foundation thatt the government references when making policy and that scholars use when undertaking research. In matters concerning important national decisions, when opinions must be solicited it is good to set up some rules to bring them onto an appropriate path so as to minimize potential conflict. As the behavioral quality of netizens rises, and when the majority of people recognize that they must respect the rules, then order will be established.

Globe: The effect of online power on political power lies not only in within one country. It has been said globally, the engagement between countries over culture and thought is a type of "soft power war." At present, China's online space is still relatively narrow, and some people are worried about this. What is your view?
Yu: I don't see it that way. I was a netizen early on. At the time, the Internet had no Chinese-language resources. Today, if you use Baidu or Google to search Chinese-language information, you will find a wealth of content. I think that the proportion of Chinese-language resources on the Internet is connected to China's international influence, its international standing, and the developmental situation of its economic and political culture.

Unlike those worries, I think that from a standpoint of growth trends, the right to speak of Chinese-language resources is growing ever stronger, and this is amazing. Of course, we still must enter further into international communications and must have more platforms for cultural interchange, rather than simply amusing ourselves karaoke-style. But this is a long improvement process, so we should not be anxious.

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