BEIJING - From the transport ministry to Hunan party secretary then boss for the restive region of Xinjiang, Zhang Chunxians every promotion is tracked by Chinese journalists. But in certain circles, Zhang is best known as the highest-ranking official in China to communicate directly through a Twitter-like microblogging platform.
Hong Kongs media christened him the most open secretary in China, and hes known to Internet users as the online secretary. But the 300,000 people who follow his account on the microblog Tencent Weibo havent heard from him in nearly a year. On March 18, he announced a break from tweeting, shortly after the conclusion of Chinas most closely-watched political event, the so-called two sessions of the National Peoples Congress where he garnered headlines by tweeting from within the proceedings.
During the congress, he also sent a message of congratulation to Alim Halik, a Xinjiang-born lamb kebab seller who was getting married. Halik had previously impressed Zhang by donating 100,000 yuan ($16,000) - most of his profits for the last eight years to support poor students and, with Zhangs endorsement, had been voted Person of the Year for 2010 in an internet poll organized by state news agency Xinhua.
In April 2010, when Zhang arrived in Xinjiang, the region had been cut off from the Internet for ten months in the aftermath of rioting by Uighurs, the ethnic group to which Alim Halik belongs.
Zhang had restored the regions Internet access on May 14. While in charge of Hunan, a province in central China, he promoted the Web as a channel to listen to public opinions, to pool peoples wisdom and solve their problems.
He has been canvassing opinions online since 2006, when he incorporated Internet users suggestions in his report for the 9th Party Congress of Hunan Province. The following year, he registered under his real name on Rednet, a well-known local blogging forum. He later posted an official New Year greeting and has made online statements at the beginning of every year since.
He has also heeded other online suggestions, for example by demolishing a coal chimney at the headquarters of the Hunan Provincial Party Committee in 2008.
Zhang opened his microblog, or weibo, March 2, 2011, where he was identified as Zhang Chunxian, a member of the 17th CPC Central Committee, the secretary of the Party committee of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and the first political commissar of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.
He began with a letter, promising to walk hand-in-hand with Xinjiang people on weibo. Unlike many other officials with weibo accounts, Zhang maintained his personally, and within a day of signing up, he had received 5,000 messages and comments. He told journalists that he had read them all and stayed up late for four days answering.
His replies addressed questions about education, technology, employment, social security, housing and prices, and he sought to realize changes, referring many of the grievances that he heard to the relevant government departments.
One such comment came from Wang Jinfang, a farmer near the border with Kazakhstan, who felt cheated after selling her grain for a price far lower than the one she saw on the invoice from her countrys grain bureau. After Zhangs intervention she promptly received a written answer from the bureau.