An Immodest Proposal for China’s Government Websites

The official government websites for Anhui province, the city of Beijing, Guangdong province and Fujian province. Are you feeling an appetite for more cultural offerings?

Allow me to explicate an argument made quite seriously today by a Chinese communications professor in the pages of the official People’s Daily newspaper: government websites in China stink, and something must be done about it. But the piece promises so much more.

On page 7 of today’s People’s Daily, Yang Cuifang (杨翠芳), deputy director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Hubei University, argues that while the web portals of governments at various levels in China have “developed rapidly in recent years, erecting a bridge for interaction between the government and the public,” they suffer from a number of systemic problems “seriously impacting the influence and credibility of the government.”

Yang characterises the “four failures” (四不) as follows:

* Information not regularly updated
* Inaccuracy in information release
* Failure of responsiveness
* Failure to provide practical online services

Further, Yang concludes that government websites in China lack sufficient information about “cultural construction” that might make them more attractive to the public, encouraging greater uptake of information and services.

“Right now,” Yang writes, “only a small number of city and provincial government websites have started columns that introduce local culture, history and customs. While there are such columns, there is far too little content, and they are not very readable.”

Yang imagines that the reinvention of local and regional government websites in China might “bring out cultural character, effectively show local charm, and promote economic and social development.”

He concludes:

We can say that building government websites as cultural name cards, positively showcasing local cultural charm, could effectively expand the radiating force and influence of local culture, better attract [cultural] talent and help promote local economic and social development.

On days like this one, of such market volatility, it is nice to know that we can count on the Party’s official media for a steady diet of policy palaver.

We might note, in conclusion, that the website of Yang Cuifang’s own School of Journalism and Communication opens with a tacky floating advertisement, gliding like a red ghost across the page, for the Communist Party’s “building of work styles.”

How charming. Is there any more cogent summary of the only “local culture” that truly matters in China?

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