Monday, March 14, 2016

Nitizens Unite

One of my China students sent me an interesting reflection of a recent nitizen  experience.  It fascinated me so I got his permission to share it with you....

You may have heard of the very large scale 'march' of netizens from Di Ba ('the baidu post-board of "the Emperor"') to Facebook against independentists in Taiwan on 20 January. Sociologically this is a very interesting patriotic movement of netizens, full of sentiments of revel.

Baidu is our internet giant, one similar to google on many aspects. But personally I find their service lags far behind google. 'The post-board of "the Emperor"' is virtually Li-Yi Ba ('the post-board of Li Yi'). Li used to be the forward of our national soccer team, who once said that his style of dribbling was like the French soccer player Thierry Henri 'the Emperor' (the nickname we Chinese soccer fans gave him). Since everyone knows Chinese soccer players kick awkwardly, fans ridiculed Li as 'the Emperor' for his 'complacency' as it was perceived by many. Thus Li-Yi Ba got its nickname 'Di Ba', the post-board of 'the Emperor'. Di Ba became a place for young male netizens from grass-root classes roughly a decade ago and has retained its status ever since. It is an emblem of anti-culture, of young 'losers' striving for better future, rebellious, cynical but not totally without optimism. 
As for 'the march of Di Ba', it is totally a spontaneous campaign launched by the post-1990 generation, also participated by post-2000’s and probably some very late post-1980’s. 
I am 100% sure that it is totally spontaneous; BBC's statement that it was organized by our state was nonsense - reasons sketched below.
They scaled our GFW and protested on the Facebook pages of Taiwan independentists. The major targets are their newly elected president, who is an independentist, and several pro-independence media. The number of these netizens mounted to more than 20 million, a number that rivals the total population of Taiwan.
The campaign was very well organised indeed. The leaders divided their followers into several groups, with very clear arrangement of specific objects: some were assigned to collect the evidence of the words and deeds of independentists; some collect interesting stickers of cuisines and sights of interest in China (and mark them with 'made in China'), of pro-union or anti-independent slogans; some act as 'pioneering troops', and some specially charged of apologizing if any of their fellows spoke rude, offensive words. The organisers of this campaign warned that everyone should keep calm once get offensive reaction, and none should speak rude words; if any was found doing so, others should instantly apologize on behalf of the whole movement.
They then flooded those independentists with their stickers and slogans.
The campaign turned out to be really well-disciplined if measured by the standard of online movement, though minor chaos did occur. It reminds me of the grain riots in early modern England - spontaneous but very well disciplined, too.
The campaign took place on 7 p.m., 20 Jan. The next day it had an amusing turn - organizers set up a forum on FB for single boys and girls from both sides of the strait to match together. Some Taiwan youth who are friendly to mainland did appear and talk a bit with these young patriots from the other side. They posted photos to see if they could find boyfriends or girlfriends. Of course this is more of a revel rather than serious matching.
As far as I know, with my personal contacts, most in Taiwan were, and are untouched, a few, though really few, seem friendly and willing to promote mutual understanding, more provoked, disaffected, and angry; some deliberately led campaigners to the FB pages of their pro-union politicians and said they were pro-independent, to see them flooded by stickers posted by misled Di Ba members.
Some western news reporters, like BBC, said that the campaign was organized by our authority, which is totally untrue. They certainly lack sufficient knowledge of popular culture of the post-1990 generation and the netizen-authority relation here to interpret this campaign as a sociological phenomenon. Our moralistic state will never do this - big government officials are quite culturally conservative, full of affectation with their manners. They will not do such things heavily tainted by the spirit of revel. What's more, Only we rebellious kids will take such a drastic turn from flooding stickers and slogans to matching single boys and girls!! 
Indeed the reaction from our authority seems very ambivalent. 
On 20 Jan the campaign was on live on several video websites, yet they were blocked by our authority. Major official presses keep quiet. Only the WeChat site of the foreign branch of People's Daily posted 2 fresh comments, one very positive and the other, a day later, more sobering. The reasons of this ambivalence seem very complex, but one of them should be sure - this unleash of patriotic sentiment directly acted against the GFW - it was indeed scaled super easily by young netizens. This is a loud slash on the face of our authority concerning their cyber regulation. They are certainly happy to find that the youth are very patriotic concerning TW issue, but the campaign also shows the formidability of popular online campaign, something those conservative, arrogant mandarins certainly dislike and fear.
In mainland, many common netizens observing this campaign exalted; a few idealists, mostly some liberal intellectuals, either old or young, despise it as harmful populism; many keep quiet, but I guess they are generally happy to see this.
As one with pro-peaceful union sentiment, I at first thought it populist, but with more information my view became more balanced. Given the discipline of the campaign one cannot say it was populist though no doubt an unleash of patriotic sentiment, less one could say these netizens were internet mob. But I do doubt its efficacy given the reaction from TWese. Unionism has been waning in the past decade on that island due to bad policies of the ruling KMT: the economic fruits of mainland-TW communication didn't go to the hands of grass roots but capitalists; KMT (the ruling party of the Republican China, 1912-1949 and one of the major parties in contemporary TW) was crippled by in-party factions and serious symptom of corruption; the self-conception of new generations there was not 'Chinese' but 'TWese' and they were really blinded by some their official education and their own stereotypes on the reality of mainland (e.g. a despotic place) - a short deviation - liberty blind them while GFW stimulate some of us mainlanders to get rid of brainwashing as much as one can. A sober observer has to realize this and admit it. It's just that our authority denies it in their discourse - I don't know if they recognize the reality - hope yes. Given this, 'the march of Di Ba', from my point of view, won't do much good to bridge the ideological gap. However, the very very strong taint of popular revel certainly tempers the political sense of the whole campaign. It is sociologically interesting, somehow like the popular revel on certain politically important dates in early modern England (like the Guy Fox Day), or the pope-burning possessions in Restoration London.