A new Global Times editorial expresses deep concern that too much public opinion on the Internet is negative, and fails to reflect how much most of the public actually appreciates the government. (Remember, according to a Pew Research poll some 86 percent of Chinese are happy with the direction their government is taking.)
Opinions expressed on the Internet have shown an increasing tendency of going to the extreme, pressuring those wanting to speak to either criticize the political system or remain silent. The pressure is obvious, given the volume of opinion leaders on the Internet. Dissidents have to be careful in voicing their views.
Freedom of speech has long faced restrictions, first under the powerful control of the government. Now, restrictions from the government are gradually in retreat, especially at where academics gather, such as universities. But pressure from public opinion is rising quickly.
Criticism is seemingly the main tone of cyber opinion. To many, everything in real life is negative, thus every word they utter is full of aggravation. Mainstream society obviously has different opinions of people’s lives since most people have benefited from the country’s progress.
This problem of negative thoughts needs to be addressed. Public opinion needs to be molded by those who know better. Whingers and perennial critics of the government are gaining the upper hand, and they need to be countered. What better way than to form a government-appointed panel of experts with the specific mantra of making sure the Internet reflects how happy the Chinese really are?
It is already hard to speak the truth in China. Now this difficulty is facing new challenges. China needs a group of courageous scholars to speak out against unhealthy public opinion, helping to build a value system in accordance with China’s reality.
Cyber space has come to dominate China’s public opinion, but its value orientation is distanced from real life society. The government needs to reflect. With its influence over public opinion decreasing, certain powerful parts of the public will naturally take up a greater share.
Truth is particularly valuable to today’s country. Truth should be based on facts, and should reflect real diversity. But the truth now is twisted. It needs the participation of a wide scope of scholars to reverse it.
Truth needs to presented within the range of the Party discourse. It’s gotten way out of hand, twisted by dissidents who suddenly have a broad platform to subvert it. Luckily the Party is considering solutions to stem the tide. Luckily, a group of scholars can determine for us what’s true and what isn’t. And lest we forget, “Dissidents have to be careful in voicing their views.”
Let me just add, nearly all the posts about government on Twitter and Facebook, as on Weibo, are critical. That’s what impels most Netizens to speak out. The Internets would be pretty boring if it was stuffed with tweets and posts about how happy people are with their government. It would also not reflect the truth, that people have issues with their government, in China and everywhere else.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.