While delegates demonstrated a new openness towards online suggestions at this year's annual sessions of the National People's Congress and its top advisory body, they remained as tight-lipped as ever on the most substantive and sensitive issues. Zhou Ze, a Beijing lawyer who helped the last person jailed for hooliganism on the mainland appeal for clemency, posted a short appeal on Sina's Weibo, or microblog, service, tagging more than 40 delegates and hoping to receive even one reply. 'I am disappointed that I've received no reply,' he said. 'I had hoped they could pass the information on to the relevant department. 'It's upsetting to see that they probably won't appeal for people at the bottom of the social ladder.' Internet users discussed many political and social issues on official online platforms or through social networks during the sessions of the NPC and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which concluded this week. Officials have come to realise how quickly word can travel among the mainland's 457 million Web users, especially via social networking tools. Analysts agreed that the internet provided a convenient way for delegates to hear public opinions and possibly reflect those opinions in their proposals, but they remained sceptical about the effectiveness of such online interaction. Wu Qiang, an internet analyst with Tsinghua University's political science department, said that although it was a laudable attempt, the effects would be restricted 'because it's still questionable how much the delegates can represent the people'. 'It's more like a media sensation and helps improve the reputation of the annual conferences because it's a good publicity tactic,' Wu said. The 'E-politics Square' at the online forum of the People's Daily collected more than 2,000 suggestions this year about how to improve livelihoods. The 30 most-discussed issues were passed on to CPPCC delegates, becoming the first time that the CPPCC had formally accepted online opinion, the forum's moderator said. Henan's official news website Dahe.cn featured special pages for the provincial people's congress and NPC, something it began in 2007. Shi Yunbin, editor of the interactive interview section at Dahe.cn, said the website had served as a bridge between internet users and Henan delegates. He said there were three ways they could pass suggestions on to delegates: 'Some delegates published their e-mail addresses. Some browsed internet users' posts and sometimes replied to them. We editors also handed the most-discussed issues to delegates.' Shi said the webpage on the provincial congress had attracted three million page views over 10 days and collected about 2,000 suggestions. Delegates had responded to about three-quarters of the ideas. 'We've found it's quite popular among internet users. The page views have climbed rapidly each year.' One internet user said they wished delegates could hear more ordinary voices and 'less of what local officials report'. Aside from forums and special congress reports on official websites, internet users and delegates also used social networks such as Twitter-like microblog platforms to interact with each other. Xinjiang party secretary Zhang Chunxian, known for his public relations skills, opened a microblog account on March 2 on the Tencent site just for the annual NPC and CPPCC sessions, becoming the first ministerial-level official to use the popular social-networking tool. He posted more than 80 entries and replies and his account attracted more than 280,000 followers. 'This microblog account was designed to open another channel to widely and directly hear suggestions about improving the livelihoods of the Xinjiang people,' Zhang said in a posting. 'I was moved to see so many internet users speaking their minds by making comments and suggestions over the past few days.' More than 400 NPC deputies and CPPCC delegates have accounts on mainland microblog platforms, most of them using Sina's Weibo service, but some delegates posted only a few entries or none at all. Sina public relations manager Liu Qi said: 'Some delegates published their proposals ahead of the annual conference and internet users commented on them.' CPPCC delegates Wang Chaobin, Yao Aixing and Liu Gexin hailed communication via Weibo, saying it was an effective way for delegates to take account of opinions before submitting proposals. One Weibo microblogger said it helped internet users to send suggestions to delegates, but it would take some time to become truly effective. 'Generally speaking, it's a huge step forward in improving social progress, countering social injustice and quelling extreme views on livelihoods.' She said the people and the authorities would take it seriously one day, which could be very helpful in tackling some social issues. Lawyer Zhou said he hoped delegates would make the most of the internet and continue using the social-networking tools even though the annual meetings had ended. Internet users said they seemed to enjoy more freedom of expression online, even though sensitive issues were carefully filtered out by internet companies and the authorities. A joint survey by Shanghai Wenhui Daily and Shanghai University's Social Sciences Survey Centre found 11 per cent of respondents viewed freedom of online expression as one of the factors contributing to the happiness index, the newspaper reported last week without specifying how many people were polled. Tight controls on the internet cast a cloud on the credibility of 'public opinion', Wu said.