Xinjiang Communist Party secretary Zhang Chunxian, known for his public relations skills, has become the first provincial leader to open a microblog account - although it is only for this combined annual session of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. Zhang was the first ministerial-level official to use the popular social-networking tool, as authorities have come to realise how effective a microblog can be to reach the mainland's 457 million internet users. Zhang, 58, posted a message to internet users at 8.21pm on Wednesday on the Tencent microblog service. His account has attracted nearly 12,000 followers in one day, with thousands of comments discussing livelihood issues such as inflation, house prices, pay and employment. In an entry titled 'People's livelihoods are linked with people's hearts', Zhang wrote: 'An ordinary person wrote to me recently, and she said 'During the past year, we ordinary residents gradually feel the warmth of unity and loving hearts. We now hum songs while going home ... because there are many happy things surrounding us.' 'These down-to-earth words are touching and make me happy.' Some users posted comments in the hope that Zhang would actually read them. 'I hope you will hear more voices from ordinary people and less of what local officials report,' one reply said. Zhang, is quite a contrast with his predecessor, Wang Lequan, known as the 'Emperor of Xinjiang' for his iron-fisted rule and fiery rhetoric. Wang was removed following deadly ethnic violence in July 2009, which left nearly 200 dead, and the hypodermic needle attack scares in September that year. Zhang is known for his populist style. Other officials have also opened accounts on popular services. About 330 deputies to the NPC and CPPCC have accounts, and some interact with internet users over their proposals. Adalet Ahmetian, a professor at the Xinjiang Medical University in the regional capital of Urumqi, said yesterday that she was happy to learn about Zhang's account. 'Zhang always does something creative and good, which is out of my imagination,' she said. 'Apart from communicating with civilian folks through the microblog, he also made public his own income earlier. Both of these surprise me.' Professor Zhang Ming, of Renmin University, said Zhang's microblog entries helped shape a better image for officials. 'It's trendy to open a microblog account, which contributes to an image of open-mindedness and willingness to interact with users.'