To ring in the New Year, Tea Leaf Nation is pleased to bring you a road map to the key players on Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter. This cast of characters is inspired by a popular Weibo tweet, and all descriptions and commentary are from Tea Leaf Nation. See Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and the last installment Part 4 here!
A side note for the uninitiated – the number of followers is not necessarily indicative of influence as many liberals whom the censors disapprove of have complained of “disappeared” followers. The most followed people on Weibo, as on Twitter, are celebrities in showbiz.
Writers - @李承鹏(4.1 million+ followers): Mr. Li “Big Eyes” Chengpeng is a soccer columnist turned social critic, whose razor sharp and highly entertaining blog entries leave no holds barred in lashing out against the authorities (see TeaLeafNation’s earlier coverage on one of his posts on democracy). Mr. Li has been harassed and censored on occasion but his high profile may have protected him from rougher handling. To show his money’s where his mouth is, he is running for the People’s Congress in his home city as an independent candidate. Honorable mention: @郑渊洁(2.5 million+ followers): Mr. Zheng Yuanjie is China’s most famous writer of children’s literature and a prominent critic of China’s education system.
Sample tweet from Mr. Li (December 31, 2011): Democracy means the right to be upset. Even a vulgar person like myself should have the right to be upset since I live in a place run by people who have sent their children to foreign countries. Not that all Chinese people are upset, but as Chinese people, we have the right to be upset about China. Once you understand this, you have picked up a brick called “upset,” and are ready to knock on the gate of liberty.
Economists – @许小年(2.6 million+ followers) and @韩志国 (3.8 million+ followers): Professor Xu Xiaonian and Mr. Han Zhiguo are not necessarily the most respected oracles of the Chinese economy but they are surely the most social media-savvy. They are using Weibo to call for a more hands-off economic policy and more open political reforms.
Sample tweet from Professor Xu (January 1, 2012): Shameless and peremptory interventions into the lives of ordinary people, is this the tune to which the government is singing in 2012? [In response to news reports that the regulations to promote "moral content" and severely restrict advertising in local television channels are coming into effect in 2012]