HONG KONG — A little democracy has gone straight to Chinese netizens' heads.
After discovering the White House's "We the People" website, which allows internet users to submit and vote on petitions that could appear before the president, Chinese netizens have flooded the page and created petitions both serious and absurd. By Wednesday afternoon, five of the last six petitions on the website were related to China.
Three separate petitions requested that Obama weigh in on the perennial debate in China about what flavor of tofu is best, sweet or salty. (Salty is traditionally preferred in the north, sweet in the south.) One poorly-written plea on behalf of sweet tofu had, by Wednesday afternoon, received 1,363 signatures.
"We request the United States government will [sic?] tofu curd official taste is sweet, namely the use of granulated sugar, brown sugar and other sweet condiments," it read.
Two petitions were filed asking for the US to "send troops to liberate China" (3,917 votes) and Hong Kong (1,116). "Our reason same as 'The Declaration of Independence," the latter said.
Another called for China's notoriously difficult college admission exam, the gaokao, to be canceled.
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Users on social media site Sina Weibo, meanwhile, joked that the White House had become "the Bureau of Letters and Calls of the People's Republic of China," sharing mocked-up images of Obama at work at his "new" office.
Some Chinese internet users condemned the silly petitions, saying they sabotaged the purpose of the White House site and blaming them on "bored stupid people who always ruin the order of things."
But the zeal for petitioning may have more to it than simple internet pranks. People who try to petition the government in Beijing are often notoriously ill-treated by local officials: many hire "interceptors" to beat or detain petitioners before they can make their complaints.
That is perhaps why some activists have embraced the White House website as a platform unavailable to them in China. One serious petition asked Obama to help halt the construction of a petrochemical plant near the city of Kunming, a tourist destination in Yunnan province. Citing concerns about pollution and carcinogens, and noting the "large number of foreign tourists, including Americans" in the area, the petition called for assistance in appealing to the Chinese government.
At least one Chinese petition is bound to be considered by the Obama administration: a request to investigate and deport a woman living in the US who was allegedly involved in poisoning her roommate in Beijing two decades ago. It received over 100,000 votes by Monday.