Grandpa Wen Shaking it Up on Facebook
The Chinese government hasn't — at least in the last century or so — had the public perception of being particularly open. From infamous anti-protest activities to the Great Firewall of China the ruling powers have a history of keeping pretty tight control of who hears what and how they hear it. It's possible that things are changing, however, as an official-looking profile of Premier Wen Jiabao has turned up on Facebook.
The premier has become the face of a kinder, gentler Chinese government of late, turning up in person to console and compatriate with the Chinese citizenry in times of disaster. During January's winter storm, he ventured out to apologize to stranded travelers, and was quick to arrive on the scene of this month's 8.0 earthquake, which killed more than 67,000 and left hundreds of thousands injured and homeless. The aftermath of the earthquake included other signs of government openness, including relaxed restrictions on bloggers and online news reporting of the tragedy — until the usual censorship reappeared in the face of criticism of the way the government handled the crisis.
Now the premier — nicknamed "Grandpa Wen" by admirers — seems to have turned up on Facebook, with an official portrait, a biography extolling his love of baseball, and a music video with all the splendor of a 1980s charity production. It's beginning to appear, however, that the profile — which has gained 14,000+ supporters — is an unofficial move, as neither Foreign Affairs nor the official Press Office knows anything about it.
False profiles are a frequent occurrence on social networking sites, including Facebook, and have on occasion stirred up significant trouble for their creators. An unauthorized profile of Morocco's Prince Moulay Rachid earned Fouad Mourtada a three-year jail term — a sentence narrowly avoided by the grant of a royal pardon. Given the Chinese regime's history, three years may be a cakewalk if a pretender to the Premier is discovered.