Outspoken Beijing-based artist and filmmaker Yang Weidong has requested an interview with Chinese president Hu Jintao in response to growing pressure from the government over his activities.
"I have already sent a request to 139 leaders in all departments of the State Council inviting them to be interviewed," Yang said during a visit to the Hong Kong Book Fair this week.
The interview requests had been extended to all high-ranking leaders, including President Hu, Yang said.
"Recently, the state security police in Beijing have been contacting me for a 'chat,' saying that I interview too many sensitive people," he said.
"So I thought I should maybe interview some non-sensitive people; I guess Chairman Hu is a fairly positive figure," Yang said, using Hu's title which refers to his post as head of China's ruling Communist Party.
The post of 'Chairman,' or General Secretary of the Party, is currently held alongside the presidential post.
Yang also put in bids to interview the head of the Beijing municipal police department and foreign minister Yang Jiechi, he said.
Interview requests have also made their way to U.S. President Barack Obama, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In those letters, Yang said he had tried to open a debate about democracy in China.
"Are not freedom, democracy and constitutional government the universal goals of human society?" Yang wrote.
"Do you believe that the light of universal values can one day illuminate the whole of China?"
Likelihood of response
While letters to overseas leaders are likely to attract standard acknowledgements, it is uncertain whether Yang's requests will meet with any response at all from his own leaders.
High-ranking Chinese officials typically restrict access to fully vetted members of the Party's official media, and occasionally to well-known overseas media names, often in conjunction with state visits.
While former premier Zhu Rongji developed a fairly relaxed style with reporters during public engagements, many Chinese leaders still prefer to stick to brief, pre-rehearsed statements and minimize dialogue with the press.
Zhang Boshu, a former philosophy researcher at the prestigious China Academy of Social Sciences, said Yang would be doing everyone a favor if he succeeded in getting the interviews.
"As citizens, I think that to interview one's own leaders is within the bounds of our rights," Zhang said. "It is also part of our sense of responsibility."
"As for his invitations to international leaders, I don't believe such requests from Chinese citizens happen very often," Zhang said. "This is quite pioneering work."
Yang is in Hong Kong this week to promote his book, "For the Record: 500 Chinese People’s Inner Thoughts (Volume I)."
He has become well-known on China's artistic scene for his documentaries based on large numbers of interviews, including "Signal," a 20-minute film featuring interviews with more than 200 prominent Chinese, all of whom are asked the question, "What do Chinese people need most today."
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.