Chinese President Hu Jintao has always been considered a dull figure in the political arena.
Unlike the Premier Wen Jiabao, who often shows his down-to-earth side by playing basketball with students, shedding tears in front of disaster zone victims or promising a firm stance on political reform when talking to journalists, Hu rarely shows any emotion in public and usually gives long, tedious speeches when he does talk. And his wife only comes into the spotlight when necessary at diplomatic events, and people almost never hear any anecdotes or gossip about the president.
But Hu just earned himself a new moniker, “Hu77,” in China’s blogosphere and the underworld of Twitter. (Twitter is blocked in China, but Internet savvy users can still access it through proxy servers.)
It all started from the China Central TV’s (CCTV) primetime news program on Dec 29, when a smiling Hu went on a field trip and talked with a mother and daughter who are supposed to be poor enough to rent an two-bedroom apartment in Beijing for the extremely cheap rate of just $12 a month under the government’s preferential policy for low-income citizens.
A news report from Beijing News described Hu’s visit in typical propaganda fashion:
Hu carefully inspected the layout of the apartment and then started to chat with the family cordially. “How much is your rent? Can you afford that?” Hu asked. “Seventy-seven yuan (about $12) a month, yes, I can afford the rent," answered Guo Chunping, the mother of the household, with a big smile on her face. Hu then continued, “The Party and the government put people’s life as a priority. We have taken a series of measures and will make more effort to improve the poor people’s living standard.”
The comment “seventy-seven yuan” soon became the object of online mass mocking and ridicule. As one of the most expensive cities in China, Beijing has seen property prices skyrocket non-stop in the last decade. Property price is on average three to four times more expensive than ten years ago and still going up despite the government’s pledge to control the rate.
It costs about $450,000 to buy a two-bedroom apartment in downtown Beijing; and to rent a similar apartment would cost about $750 a month. Citizens of Beijing were furious at the media for reporting this “monthly rent of $12."
Tired of hearing the story, netizens posted thousands of mocking and sarcastic comments on Twitter, the only virtual forum they feel free to talk on without censorship (albeit through a proxy server).
A label named “Hu77” was created in days and posts used this label to mock the same propaganda sentence structure:
“Hu came to inspect the Internet administration and chatted with the staffer. 'How many posts do you censor every day? Can you afford that?’ ‘I censor 77 posts every day and yes I can afford that.’ Hu smiled in satisfaction.”
“Hu came to inspect the black jail and chatted with the cop. 'How many petitioners do you beat up every day? Can you afford that?’ ‘I only beat up 77 petitioners every day and yes I can afford that.’ Hu smiled in satisfaction.”
“Hu came to inspect CCTV news programs and chatted with the presenters. 'How many times do you lie every day in your program? Can you afford that?’ ‘I lie 77 times every day and yes I can afford that.’ Hu smiled in satisfaction.”
Other than #hu77, Chinese tweeters also did a “human flesh” search on Guo Chunping, the woman who pays 77 yuan for rent, and found that she actually works for the government. Photos of her trip to Hainan, China's Hawaii, were also exposed, along with the airplane tickets that cost 40 times her rent. Neighbors claimed Guo rarely shows up in the building and is suspected of renting her apartment out to someone else.
Guo later denied that she was the woman in the travel photo and claimed she was greatly hurt by so much attention. The truthfulness of Guo’s identity and her wealth can't be independently verified since all the research and analysis was done by netizens alone, but many tend to believe that the apartment inspection was staged.
No matter what, #hu77 has become the hottest label in the Chinese Twitter world which seems likely to be closely followed for a while.
A Twitter user “Geekinmedia” posted a tweet that makes a cynical but fun point: “It has only proved Hu’s group is not as professional as Wen Jiabao’s group. They lack experience acting. From actresses to directors, they all overacted. After all Wen has the honor of being called ‘the best actor in China’...” (Wen Jiabao is nicknamed “best actor” for his tear shedding in disaster zone and repetitive promises of political reform that has never happened)