David Wertime

Online Democracy, Sort Of

This non-Chinese author voted too (sans real name)

For Chinese citizens, voting is easy–if you’re a Weibo user, that is. The votes may not have any legal effect, but a profusion of online polls allows netizens to cast a “shadow” vote on matters that range from the trivial to the overtly political. 

One poll currently popular on Sina Weibo has some 18,500 netizens (including power users Ren Zhiqiang (@任志强), Pan Shiyi (@潘石屹) and Li Kai-Fu (@李开复)) answering the question: “After the emergence of the ‘poison pill matter,’ who should quit their post (or be removed)?”

Netizens have been outraged ever since recent evidence emerged that the gelatin capsules used in some well-known brands of Chinese medicine are made from a foul slurry of discarded leather scraps. The thousands wishing to vent their spleen on Weibo could choose from the following:

  • The chairmen/general managers of the companies involved
  • Chief of the local (Zhejiang Province) health ministry
  • The Secretary of China’s State Food and Drug Administration
  • The Minister of Health
  • All of the above

Perhaps not surprisingly, the most popular answer is “all of the above.” But because Weibo polls do not force a user to choose, many netizens, like Ren Zhiqiang, went ahead and selected all five options. 

A vote without a voice? Voting multiple times in the same election? Now that’s voting with Chinese (and perhaps Chicago) characteristics. 

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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.