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Police across China have taken to micro-blogging to interact with the public as the force seeks to change its stern-faced image and ease tensions usually caused by improper handling of complaints.|
At least 500 police bureaus across the country have opened micro-blog accounts on popular Chinese web portals in the past year. Beijing police's account "Safe Beijing," for example, had some 330,000 followers by the end of 2010, officials said.
"We use micro-blogs to deal with emergencies, to hear public complaints, and to alert the public on popular crimes," said Zhao Feng, the official who manages the "Safe Beijing" micro-blog account.
Though tweeting has not yet helped police solve cases, officials say the new way of communication is effective for mending bruised relations between the police and the public.
Police in China are often criticized for ignoring complaints or putting on a stern face while responding to requests they consider trivial. Tensions can run even higher when police are ordered to forcibly resolve disputes.
"We should master the use of micro-blogs to better interact with the people, to hear their complaints and criticism and to provide better services," Meng Jianzhu, Minister of Public Security, told a national police work-shop late December.
Micro-blogs have become increasingly popular in China, which has about 400 million Internet users -- the largest in the world. By October 2010, the number of active micro-blog accounts exceeded 65 million while registered visitors to those sites exceeded 125 million, according to a recent study published by Shanghai Jiaotong University.
But it will take time to judge whether the police's latest campaign to boost popularity can win the hearts of the people.
In the southern province of Guangdong, the micro-blog of the provincial police bureau is managed by a group of young officers in their twenties. They tweet in the vernacular to reach the young generation of Internet users.
"We were saddened by online posts that called our micro-blogs a way of government manipulation of information or intervention," said Liu Bo, a web manager of "Safe Nanyue (another term for the Guangdong region)." "Frankly we are not. We want to offer help and do it more effectively."
Liu said he has been using micro-blogs to communicate with Internet users in a way that the public will learn that police officers are ordinary young adults who have their own family chores to take care of.
"We need to do the laundry, we need to babysit. We are not superior but as common as the majority of netizens," he said.
In the eastern Chinese city of Jinan, police use micro-blogs to hold online conferences to collect public opinions on issues such as traffic rules, visa applications, household registration and fire prevention.
Officials said the online conversation was active and sometimes even "fiery."
Scholars applauded such interactions as signs that the ordinary people in China are being granted more say in public affairs, a trend that can lead to government transparency and towards greater democracy.
"More government agencies should join the police in inviting the public to voice complaints online or supervise government work to head off corruption," said Wang Zhongwu, a sociology professor with Shandong University in Jinan.
"Comments posted on the Internet might be uncomfortable to the ears of the authority, but officials have to listen to uncomfortable truths to improve the governance," he said.
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