By Stephanie Ho
Chinese language comments have flooded President Barack Obama’s webpage on Google Plus, a social networking site that is usually inaccessible in China because of government blocks.
In recent days, some Chinese Internet users found they could unexpectedly freely access Mr. Obama’s Google Plus website, mostly on their mobile devices.
Some comments left by the Chinese called for free speech and human rights. Others asked for information on getting U.S. “green cards” for immigration. Some more extreme comments urged President Obama to work “to free” the Chinese people.
Jeremy Goldkorn, editor in chief of Danwei.com, thinks many of the comments were meant to be ironic or humorous.
“Whether they were calling on the United States to liberate the Chinese Internet or calling on Obama to stop being an imperialist, the tone was overwhelmingly humorous,” Goldkorn said. “So I don’t think anyone should take this as an indicator of U.S.-Chinese relations, or I don’t think one should read too much into this. I think for lots of people participating, this was fun, just a game.”
He adds that this kind of humor has its roots in Chinese culture.
“You know there is this idea in China that has been adapted for the Internet of ‘weiguan,’ of standing around and looking at something interesting, and this seems to me like a very weiguan behavior, where people probably spread virally that ‘Hey, you can comment on Obama’s page,’ and people went to have a look, and they left comments.”
Goldkorn adds that many Chinese would visit President Obama’s webpage simply because it is such a novelty to leave comments for a well-known top leader, because they do not have the same opportunities in their own country. But he warns that these comments do not accurately represent public opinion throughout the country.
“It shows you one aspect of public opinion as held by very high-tech savvy Internet users, most of whom are in their 20s or 30s,” he said. “To read it as what all people in China are thinking, it would be wrong.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei was asked whether the Chinese government is concerned about Chinese Internet users calling on President Obama to help “free them.”
He repeated Beijing’s position that it protects Chinese citizens’ rights to free expression on the Internet. But he also warned that they should express themselves according to Chinese laws and regulations.
The spokesman refused to answer a follow up question about whether the Chinese government considers people who criticize it online as violating the law. Chinese authorities block many Internet sites they consider illegal or pornographic. These sites include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.