Mainland netizens are pessimistic about whether direct communication with officials online can be truly effective - but that is not going to stop them trying.
A major survey on new communication methods conducted by People.com.cn, the official website of the People's Daily, found that only 15 per cent of 49,000 respondents said issues raised online would be dealt with in reality. But due to a lack of channels to express opinions or report scandals, 69 per cent of netizens said they would do it anyway.
Netizens were asked 33 questions ranging from 'which level of officials would you like to chat with online?' and 'do you think the internet can be a new tool to prevent graft?'.
The online survey was organised as part of a series of events to celebrate the anniversary of President Hu Jintao's webchat on the website's influential bulletin board system, the Qiang Guo Forum, on June 20 last year. On the same day as the webchat, Mr Hu urged all levels of propaganda officials to pay attention to the internet and find new ways to lead public opinion.
A website official said the survey was the first to focus on online communication between officials and netizens.
'As we know, the concept has only been around for a couple of years, so it should be the first time we have done such a large survey on this topic,' he said.
Survey results released yesterday showed 52 per cent of netizens believed the internet was helping the party to create a new method of governance. A similar number believed the internet should become a fifth official channel for communication, alongside books, newspapers, radio and television.
Experts believe Mr Hu's intention is to use the internet to monitor low-level officials, who are accustomed to handing in 'sugared' reports.
But Zhan Jiang, a professor at the China Youth University of Political Science, warned that grass-roots officials would not welcome this kind of monitoring and might punish netizens.
This fear was borne out in the survey, which found that while about 70 per cent believed the internet was an effective way to supervise officials and prevent corruption, a similar number feared reprisals if they posted negative reports.
Many netizens believe the internet is a good way to monitor officials
The proportion of survey respondents who believe the internet is helping the Communist Party create a new method of governance: 52%