Greetings, Citizen

A “personal” holiday greeting from President Hu Jintao was delivered Tuesday to an unknown number of Chinese citizens lucky or affluent enough to own upscale video mobile phones.

The 27-second message, in which Hu’s digitalized voice sounded somewhat like a squawking, semi-inebriated robot (“All the leaders sound like that,” one recipient, 26-year-old Jiang Qian, a Shenzhen woman, quipped) and featured a stern color photo of Hu and the following message: “I express holiday greetings to you on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party, central government, the CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee) and State Department. I wish you a happy life, a happy family, and everything that you wish for. Thank you!”

Jiang and a 30-year-old IT worker, Peng Fei who also owns a camera phone both called the message “funny” but had no idea why they received it. “One person who didn’t receive it told me that maybe it was only for Party members,” Peng said. “I was a Party member at university but I have not paid any dues or fees or attended any meetings since that time.”

The combination of Big Brother, spam, and heartfelt greetings was delivered by the largest of China’s two phone companies, China Mobile, but estimates of the cost and number of recipients were unavailable in calls to China Mobile offices in Shenzhen.

Hu’s holiday spam was enabled by the fact that since early 2006 China’s Ministry of Information Industry has required all 200 million mobile phone users who pay in advance for services to register their names, hometown and current residence when signing up. Users who signed up for service prior to the new edict were given six months to go to their local phone operator with identity cards to register.

State media and Zao Zhiguo, deputy director of the ministry’s telecommunications administration, said at the time that the registration was an attempt to fight fraud, pornography, unauthorized political gatherings and spam, which presumably does not include unsolicited messages from the president.

China is the world’s largest cell phone market, with more than 400 million subscribers, mostly in top-tier and second-tier cities where the market has been reported as “saturated,” according to Electronic Engineering Times. But there were no reports of “happy holidays from Hu” in simple SMS text message form for the majority of the proletariat still laboring with low-frill phones.

However, on March 12, 2006 what might be termed as a test run for Hu’s holiday greeting was launched when Fujian province party officials and China Mobile combined to relay a brief message from Hu “I wish you a better life. Please pass my greetings on to the people of Bayi village.”in text message form to 300,000 rural phone subscribers in Bayi and surrounding areas.