Official Online Poll: Chinese Want Democracy

Official Online Poll: Chinese Want Democracy

With China’s new leadership now set, Chinese Web users have turned their attention to answering the key question: “What’s next?” In concert with the 18th Party Congress, the website of Communist Party-sanctioned Peoples’s Daily  asking Web users about their hopes for future development. The poll asked users to vote for the topics they cared about most, picking one from a menu which included “Democracy,” “economic development,” “national defense,” “cultural prosperity,” “peace and unity,” “building the Communist Party,” and “international relations.”

The winner? Democracy, in a landslide. Out of a healthy 187,000-plus votes cast, democracy ranked first with over 61,000. This was followed by anti-corruption, which garnered over 38,000 votes, then “social livelihood” with more than 33,000. Although economic development has been the focus of much of China’s policy-making in recent years, that concern ranked a distant fourth.

Of course, this was far from a scientific survey. Determined users could vote for the same option multiple times; nonetheless, in the absence of more traditional democratic means, the poll is a powerful gauge of public opinion. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that this poll was held by a news organization traditionally known to hew to the Party line, and the poll’s affiliation with the 18th Party Congress was emblazoned in bold red across the top of the screen.

People’s Daily Online
Poll results

It’s a bold move by the Party-controlled media, although it only displays the poll results and voter comments are few and far between. But the poll’s results were widely shared on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter. When famous investor and commentator Kai-Fu Lee, (@) posted the results, they attracted over 800 comments, serving as an ad hoc discussion platform about China’s future.

Some users were surprised by how far the poll went, especially because it was hosted by a state media outlet (albeit one that has a ). @ commented: “[This post is] Surprisingly open and transparent; astonished.” @ wrote, “Hoho, can’t believe it’s” @joked: “It’s truly from; now [it’s] safe to repost.”

Some worried aloud whether the poll’s seemingly clear results would ever reach decision-makers. @ wrote, “I voted for democracy too, hopefully the Big Seven [China’s Politburo Standing Committee] will hear the people’s voice”. @ joked bitterly: “Chairman Xi is too busy to surf online, or to check weibo. Just drop the idea, folks.”

Others were more hopeful that new leader Xi Jinping and his colleagues might take the results to heart. @ commented, “Mr. Xi, it’s your turn now”; @ adds: “The new leader is standing at a crossroads; a middling approach is no longer an option for him”. Another commentator boldly wrote, “With globalization deepening, American-style democracy will lead human development in the 22nd century. … Obama’s passionate [victory] speech [which resonated deeply in China’s blogosphere] has stirred public emotions. Chairman Xi, you have been pushed to the cusp.”

But Web users seemed largely aware that even if Xi were to step across the Rubicon separating democracy from one-party rule, he would have to tread carefully. @ commented: “Political reforms cannot come in a rush. Step by step. A bit of carelessness would draw us back to the historical cycle practiced by so many Dynasties in the past 5000 years.”  @ agreed wholeheartedly: “The sequence for problem solving should be exactly reversed. While carefree social elites are chatting about democracy, 800 million people at the bottom barely able to cover food and clothing need economic development.”

The People’s Daily decision to run this poll, obviously sanctioned by Chinese authorities, is a bold move. But it does not occur in isolation; recently, Weibo posts have flooded in with expectations for China’s new leadership. Liberal intellectuals, who often set the tone for certain quarters of public opinion, have been vocal and their posts have been widely shared. This trend perhaps began with Liu Shengjun (@), an economist and columnist for the Chinese language edition of the Financial Times and Caixin. On November 15, he posted on Weibo his “ten biggest wishes for the next ten years.” They included “not having to buy infant milk powder abroad,” an end to worsening environmental pollution, an end to the emigration of rich officials and rich entrepreneurs, and the hope that “the stock market is transformed from a money misappropriation machine to a value-creating arena.”

Power bloggers Li Chengpeng (@) and Xue Manzi (@) soon followed suit with their own posts to help set the online agenda. Many Weibo users have applauded these efforts, but some question their feasibility. @ exhorted: “Wake up! Wake up!” @ wrote, “Hope is plump but reality is skinny … to achieve all these … is really hard.”

Such posts are part and parcel of the resurgence of Internet liberals following China’s leadership transition, although a separate online debate has also recently heated up between Chinese liberals and conservatives. Ultimately, however, history will only record the real impacts of such arguments. It still not clear if Sina Weibo is in fact pushing the limits of free speech, or just functioning as an outlet for reformists (or worse, a false front for free speech to quell public anger). As Li Chengpeng concluded upon his return after being silenced during the leadership transition:

“Back to Weibo; so excited to make wishes for the next ten years: lower prices, less corrupted officials, more social benefits, narrower wealth gap, more opportunities for the youth … just realized that new governments have said all these; back to decade, two decades ago, these have also be promised. So my message for the next ten years: Realize the promises made during the meeting. Even if only two of them come to fruition, we would be very happy.”


This story by Rachel Wong was originally published by .





An International Victory, Forged in China’s Tumultuous Past

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
On October 5, a share of this year’s Nobel Prize in medicine went to 84-year-old Chinese pharmacologist Tu Youyou for her discovery, decades ago, of the anti-malarial drug artemisinin. Tu and her team made the discovery during the Cultural...



Meet China’s Salman Rushdie

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
On a warm late afternoon in June, I sat with Perhat Tursun as he slowly exhaled a puff of smoke from a blue cigarette with shiny gold trim. Arrayed on the pale lace tablecloth before us was an assortment of nuts, sunflower seeds, and wine. The...



U.S. Presidential Candidates on China

As American primary season gets into full swing, China has already become a target for candidates in both parties, a phenomenon that continues a pattern established in the past U.S. presidential elections. This year, 54 percent of Americans held an...



When Chinese Internet Users Call Xi Jinping Daddy

Anne Henochowicz
Internet censorship in China has inspired the invention of a menagerie of online creatures: the river crab, the elephant of truth, the monkey-snake. Each beast’s name plays on a word or phrase that has at some point angered Chinese Internet users,...



What’s China’s Mood Under Xi? New Data Gives a Glimpse

David Wertime
China, under the presidency of Xi Jinping, has invited a number of breathless pronouncements about the state of the country. Chinese media regularly conjure the “Chinese Dream,” one of Xi’s favored phrases, which means whatever readers want it to...



Mapping the World’s Winners and Losers from China Trade

The story of China’s trade over the past half-decade or more has stayed relatively consistent: countries exporting commodities to China have seen enormous inflows of money as the country has consumed huge quantities of raw materials, while developed...



‘God’s United Front’ and the Battle Over China’s Crosses

This article first appear in Chinese on September 2 in Hong Kong-based outlet The Initium Media. Foreign Policy translates with permission, with edits for brevity and clarity.On the evening of August 16, nearly one hundred pastors, ministers, and...



Chinese Web Users Grieve for Syrian Toddler—and Blame America

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
A photo of Syrian three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish beach, who drowned as his family attempted to flee their war-torn homeland by crossing the Mediterranean Sea to find refuge in Greece, has stunned viewers across Europe and the...



Who Is Xi Jinping? Introducing the Asia Society Podcast

Eric Fish
Three years after Xi Jinping took control of China’s Communist Party and assumed the country’s leadership, he has emerged as one of the world’s most powerful people. But his tenure has also raised uncomfortable questions. Is he a reformer bent on...



Chinese Web Users Aren’t Blaming Detained Journalist for Market Panic

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian
China’s stock markets have been in free-fall for some time. Now, so is a financial journalist who had the temerity to write about them. On August 31, Chinese journalist Wang Xiaolu confessed on state-run China Central Television (CCTV) to writing a...