China’s biggest microblogging site, Weibo, is not unfamiliar to foreign head of states. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, UK prime minister David Cameron, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro—all have opened accounts on the site and have interacted with readers in Chinese. But China’s own leaders are more reluctant to engage with online audiences.
Chinese president Xi Jinping’s limited number of social media contributions include a selfie with Cameron and Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero during Xi’s state visit to the UK in October, while Chinese premier Li Keqiang indulged Modi in a joint selfie, said to be Li’s first, at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven in May. Neither of these were posted by the Chinese leaders on Weibo. Instead, they surfaced on Twitter—a social media platform blocked by China’s elaborate censorship machine.
But finally, on Dec. 25, during his visit to the headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army Daily—a mouthpiece newspaper of the Communist Party and the army—Xi crafted his first post on Weibo. It’s the first Weibo message from any of China’s senior officials, as far as we can tell. Xi wrote the message personally, according to state media.
Here’s a translation of Xi’s message (link in Chinese, registration required):
On the occasion of the new year approaching, on behalf of the Party Central and the Central Military Commission, I wish all PLA officers, paramilitary police forces, and militia reservists a happy new year. I hope everyone to practice the goal of strengthening the army, fulfill missions effectively, and make new and greater contributions for the realization of the Chinese dream and the dream of strengthening the army!
Despite the lack of substantial contents and the fact that Xi didn’t even open his own account, the Chinese president’s first Weibo post quickly went viral—as it offers a first chance for Chinese Internet users to potentially interact with their top leader directly. As of Dec. 28, Xi’s post has been forwarded more than 360,000 times and has garnered more than 48,000 comments.
“Strongly looking forward to Xi Dada opening Weibo account—even Obama often posts on Twitter,” wrote blogger Whoops not bad, referring Xi to his nickname (which translates to “Daddy Xi“). Many Chinese bloggers expressed the same wish.
Others took the opportunity to highlight some of the well-documented problems Beijing has had recently with extreme levels of pollution (“If Beijing’s weather could be better, we will be happier. But I still love you, Xi Dada!” wrote Weibo user Little Girl Guan) and with investment scandals that have burned Chinese investors this year (“Please bring justice to E Zubao investors,” wrote the blogger Hope to be loved, referring to China’s biggest online peer-to-peer lending platform, which is now under police investigation).
Some comments were more pointed than others. “All the replies about Yunnan government defrauding 43 billion-yuan funding through Fanya in the past four years have been deleted,” a user known as Sean Elephant complained. “You can delete replies, but can you delete people’s hearts? The heaven knows what you did. Sooner or later retribution will come.”
The tens of thousands of comments attached to Xi’s message almost certainly have been routed through China’s censors. And perhaps some—we can’t tell how many—came from the government-hired Internet commentators known as the “50-cent party,” who try to influence public opinion.
Additional reporting by Echo Huang.