The Interview With Wu Hao

Wu Hao is the deputy director of the Yunnan provincial party committee publicity department.  In the case of "Eluding the Cat," he organized a netizen investigation team.  In the case of the "Elementary school prostitutes," he made Internet posts under his own name.  His actions were very different from the traditional image about local government officials.  On November 26, 2009, he gave an exclusive interview with in Beijing.

(ifeng via Daqi)  Yunnan Government Official: It is not that weird things occur in Yunnan; it is because we are more open about things.  November 27, 2009.

Q. In reviewing your work over the past year from the "Elude the Cat" case to the "Elementary school prostitutes" case, the former case has been settled and the latter is being tried in court.  How do you look at these two cases today?

A: From the angle of the publicity department, we think that we were just doing our job to the best of our ability.  But many publicity departments, as well as the media, want to treat our handling of these two cases as case studies in open information.

Q: Landmark cases?

A: Landmark case studies.  That is why many public members will have a question: Why do weird things only occur in Yunnan?  Actually, weird things don't just happen in Yunnan.  They occur everywhere.  They occur all over China.  But our environment for opinion supervision is better.  We dare to be more open and we dare to expose these cases under the sunshine.  That is all.

For example, in the case of "Elude the Cat," we organized a civilian investigation team.  Actually we thought that this was a very complete realization of the respect and protection of the rights to know, to express, to participate and to supervise as proposed in the Seventeenth Congress.  Why do I say that this was a relatively complete realization of these four rights?

When we organized a netizen investigation, it satisfied people's right to know.  Through their investigation into the truth of the matter, their right to know is realized.

When they went to investigate personally and when they visited the detention centre to see for themselves, their right to participate is realized.  They have directly entered into this sensitive case.  This was previously unthinkable.  Could you have visited the scene of the incident as an ordinary member of the public?  You would have been stopped by the police line far, far away.  But now they have entered right in the heart of this sensitive case.  This right to participate is actually a tremendous breakthrough.  Previously, the public has no chance or ability to participate.

After their participation, these netizens came back and expressed their views in reports on the Internet.  This is a realization of the right of citizens to express themselves.

After participating and expressing themselves, the last realization is a form of supervision.  They supervised the resolution of the case.  Through this supervision, the right to know by the public is also realized.  Therefore, this can be said to be a very complete realization.

But I have to repeat what I said before.  For the public, our publicity department can do what is possible within our areas of responsibility.  You cannot demand the publicity department to solve the entire case.  We cannot solve the case in place of the law enforcement agency.  We cannot pronounce the verdict.  For example, the case of the "elementary school prostitutes" cannot be judged by the publicity department as to whether prostitution took place.  Our publicity department can only do what is within our area of responsibility.  But many readers, including some members of the public, are confused about this very basic concept.  Up to now, they (and even the media) keep asking me about the case.  This is not something that the publicity department can answer.  The law has its own rigorous procedures.  The case is being tried in court now, and we think that a verdict will be delivered soon.

Q. During this year, you have kept trying to have open information.  Did you encounter any obstruction during your interaction with other departments?  According to media reports about the "young female prostitutes" case, the Yunnan judiciary took the media and the publicity department to account.  Did this have any impact?

A: Actually, this should not be called obstruction.  Any new concept will encounter some clashes with other concepts during the process.  For the cases at issue, people did not begin with the same understanding and they had different concepts.  Then came some things that were different from the traditional way.  I think that it is understandable for such situations to exist.  There is a reason why they exist.  Certain departments had different ideas and offered different views.  I also think that it was understandable.  Some of these ideas helped us to correct ourselves.  I think that any new way of doing things or new way of thinking will be imperfect because they are new and have not withstood the test of time.  We should say that there are bound to be problems during its progress and outside supervision is required.  This is not a bad thing.

You mentioned disciplinary supervision.  The problems about the media that they brought up in the case of the "elementary school female prostitutes" are correct, in my opinion.  Of course, generally speaking, we were able to obtain good results for media supervision.  Without the media supervising this case, it may have been buried forever and the experience of that family may never be known.  Through media and opinion supervision, certain problems about law enforcement by our police officers were exposed.  These are very good results from media and opinion supervision.

With respect to the protection of juveniles, the media should have taken on the social responsibility to protect them.  But some of our media failed to live up to that responsibility.  For example, the publication of the photos of the two young girls; the reporting of their personal information, such as their school, class year and so on.  To date, the two young girls are unwilling to go back to school.  Shouldn't the media accept some responsibility?  On one hand, our media are advancing opinion supervision.  On the other hand, we have to reflect on how to carry out social responsibility.  Therefore, I think that the report from the provincial party disciplinary committee may have been over-interpreted by the outside world.

Of course, I can say that we treat our media very well and we are very tolerant.  In spite of the recommendation from the party disciplinary committee, we at the publicity department still adhered to the principle of treating the media well.  We only went through our series of actions on "responsible media" to ask the media to self-educate, self-restrain and self-reflect.  In fact, our publicity department has not dismissed any reporter or punished any media or editor over this affair.  We are more interested in getting them to discuss with us about the "Nine Why's" over this affair, to see how they can absorb the lessons and conduct better opinion supervision in the future.

Q: According to our understanding, you were asked to go for a chat and told that your concept about your work was unprecedented.  Is that true?  Will this change your advocacy for open and transparent information in the future?

A: I just said that they might find it hard to accept the concept.  As soon as we began, they found our approach unacceptable and therefore they reminded us.  A reminder.  During the process of conversation, there may be some clash of concepts.  The leaders may be reminding me, but I can also exchange and communicate with my leaders about certain new concepts and ideas.

Q: Did that change the leaders?

A: I should say that we keep getting acceptance.  The public also accept it.  I think that leaders are gradually recognizing that these are better ways of doing things.

Q: Therefore your work on open information is not going to halt?

A: It will not halt.  This is the way towards which the entire society is moving.  It is a trend in contemporary political civilization.  Therefore we are proposing to build a democratic socialist polity.  Apart from the material civilization and the spiritual civilization that we spoke of initially, we also want to build the political civilization and the ecological civilization.  We are following the social trend.  We will not stop when we run into the occasional setback or problem.  I believe that this trend is unstoppable and unbrakeable.

(  Wu Hao: The Publicity Department Must Race Against The Rumors.  November 27, 2009.

... Wu Hao actually used to be in the same business as I am.  He worked at the Xinhua News agency.  Today, his extraordinary performance has something to do with that background.  That is not necessarily the case, because many former reporters who became cadres in the publicity department were actually even tougher, in the manner that "the daughter-in-law grows up to become even worse than the mother-in-law."

Wu Hao is clearly not that type of person . He understood the importance of freedom of speech in society.  He especially esteemed the importance of the Internet.  He has said that "the publicity department must race against the rumors."  Since last year, the Yunnan provincial publicity department has handled several public incidents with methods that are completely opposite to past practice.  These included Wu Hao's personal actions: he organized a netizen investigation committee in the "Elude the Cat" incident; he made posts at the KDNet Forum over the "elementary school prostitutes" case whereupon he criticized both the reporters and the police; he was also the first to propose having "Internet spokespersons."

In the recent Snail Bay Wholesale Market mass incident in Kunming city, Wu Hao again asked the relevant departments to inform the media quickly.  He said: When an emergency incident takes place, we may try to suppress it but public opinion is actually swelling up; suppression means that there is no channel for the public to release their emotions, which may explode after a certain point is reached.  This has been proven by innumerable mass incidents such as the Weng'an and the Shishou (Hubei) incidents.  In those cases, public opinions accumulated on the Internet and then exploded in real life.

Wu Hao went on to explain: Through almost one year of practical experience, we have gone from the thought of keeping the lid to the thought of taking the lid off.  I have made a highly visual analogy.  This is like a pot of boiling water.  If we keep the lid on all the way, the bottom of the pot will eventually melt from the heat.  If we take the lid off, the boiling public opinion will slowly become steam and dissipate.  During the process of taking the lid off, the pot may become hot.  But that is unimportant.  In the end, we will be able to relieve the public opinion pressure.

Actually, Wu Hao is not saying anything complicated.  This is simple everyday knowledge which has been proven many times already.  But the strange thing is that many local publicity departments do not act this way.  Instead, they stick to the old ways of lying, restricting and oppressing the media.  They pour their limited efforts and resources onto the boundless Internet and fight against the hundreds of millions of netizens.  They set up filter keywords, they delete posts, they shut down websites and they even arrest people based upon the IP addresses.

They are also racing against the rumors.  But whereas Wu Hao chose to use open methods, they use cover-ups.  Because the Internet is boundless, they are destined to be chasing futilely all over the place and doomed to fail.

"Keeping the lid on" is one method of management, but it is ultimately an expression of a lack of self-confidence.  There is no such thing as positive or negative news.  News is neutral and reflects social changes.  Various types of conflicts will occur in any society due to the clash of interests.  This is a normal phenomenon.  Even if you deny them or cover them up, the conflicts will still be there and not vanish into the air on their own.  By keeping the lid on, the conflicts stay hidden with no opportunity to resolve.  This will only create hidden dangers and obstacles for society.

Wu Hao had written on KDNet: "Many politically experienced senior leaders have warned me time and again not to pay any attention to the things on the Internet.  You don't have to worry about them at all because they won't be able to even harm one hair on your body.  They make noise.  You ignore them.  After a while, they get fatigued from making noise.  But the more you want to respect him, to respond to him and to treat him seriously, the madder he will get in order to bit you.  Such is the Internet, such are the netizens."

You can see the thinking of these old people.  They don't care about how the times have progressed.  They didn't care about the people before, and they don't care about the Internet now.  Their ostrich-like arrogance is consistent.  But they cannot stop the tide of the times.  In the past, a simple order will kill a news report.  Today, nothing can make the whole Internet go quiet.

As long as these old ideas persist, Wu Hao won't have smooth sailing.  His colleagues accuse him of "having too advanced ideas about work which will lead Yunnan people into a public opinion disaster."  Based upon the fact that he "has leadership responsibilities for directing publicity and guiding opinion," he was recommended to be given "a talk to remind him."

Based upon developments so far, Yunnan has not landed in any public opinion disaster as a result of the extraordinary efforts of Wu Hao.  Therefore, Wu Hao has not gotten into any big trouble.  Wu Hao has advocated that the publicity department must race against the rumors.  Now he has to race against the oldsters to see who can race faster and get the last laugh.

There is no doubt that I want to see Wu Hao get the last laugh.  At a certain symbolic level, his victory will be a victory for freedom of press, for good governance and for a harmonious society.