Have a problem with China's government? President Hu wants to hear from you.

A website in China promises to deliver gripes to President Hu Jintao. Just don't write anything that 'undermines the state.' Or misspell excessively.

Kin Cheung/AP
Chinese President Hu Jintao speaks during a ceremony to mark the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, in Shenzhen City, south China's Guangdong Province, Sept. 6. Got a problem with the Chinese government? President Hu Jintao wants to hear from you.

Got a problem with the Chinese government? President Hu Jintao wants to hear from you.

At least that’s what the People’s Daily, official organ of the ruling Communist party, says, and they are ready to pass your gripe along to the most powerful men in Beijing.

They don’t promise you an answer, but the paper has launched a Chinese website called “Direct Line to Zhongnanhai” (the heavily guarded and highly walled heart of the Chinese government), inviting Internet users to send in their comments.

A daring experiment in direct democracy? Well, only up to a point. It all depends on what you want to talk about.

Ordinary Chinese citizens have remarkable faith in their top leaders. Wherever you go in this country, people blame their problems on local officials. “If only Wen Jiabao knew about this, everything would be sorted out” is a common refrain, reflecting commoners’ simple trust in their prime minister.

The new website appears designed to appeal to this attitude. It is hard to see it as much more than a sop to public sentiment, however, when you realize that in just its first week of operation more than 70,000 people have written to Mr. Hu and his colleagues. Can they possibly read all these messages, let alone come up with answers, one wonders?

Some of the 26 rules that the website managers have come up with would make sense to any message board moderator anywhere. Rule 17, for example, which bans “messages with obviously poor writing, excessive misspellings, or obscure and vacuous content.” Or a request not to “post information or remarks unrelated to the message board’s main topic.”

Others, though, are more typically Chinese. No comments, please, “which endanger state security, disclose state secrets,” or “subvert state power.” That’s a pretty broad category for a Chinese policeman: A good many Chinese writers are serving time in jail because their public advocacy of electoral democracy is considered subversive of state power.

Nor may you post anything that “undermines the unity of the state.” That puts the lid on any complaints that Tibetans or Uighurs might want to air about the way the government treats them.

Other things you cannot post include anything that might “incite illegal gatherings, association, demonstrations or gathering a crowd to disturb social order,” and “news which has not yet been publicly reported or verified.”

That still leaves a pretty wide spectrum of issues to write about; the front page of the message board on Tuesday carried posts about young people having problems finding jobs, the growing gulf between rich and poor, and rocketing real estate prices.

For some reason, though (technical? political?), only a handful of comments were legible on Tuesday afternoon. Tens of thousands of other posts were blank. Even one-way communication appears to have its limits.

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