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July 2008

China’s Guerrilla War for the Web

by David Bandurski

They have been called the “Fifty Cent Party,” the “red vests” and the “red vanguard.” But China’s growing armies of Web commentators—instigated, trained and financed by party organizations—have just one mission: to safeguard the interests of the Communist Party by infiltrating and policing a rapidly growing Chinese Internet. They set out to neutralize undesirable public opinion by pushing pro-Party views through chat rooms and Web forums, reporting dangerous content to authorities.

By some estimates, these commentary teams now comprise as many as 280,000 members nationwide, and they show just how serious China’s leaders are about the political challenges posed by the Web. More importantly, they offer tangible clues about China’s next generation of information controls—what President Hu Jintao last month called “a new pattern of public-opinion guidance.”

It was around 2005 that party leaders started getting more creative about how to influence public opinion on the Internet. The problem was that China’s traditional propaganda apparatus was geared toward suppression of news and information. This or that story, Web site or keyword could be banned, blocked or filtered. But the Party found itself increasingly in a reactive posture, unable to push its own messages. This problem was compounded by more than a decade of commercial media reforms, which had driven a gap of credibility and influence between commercial Web sites and metropolitan media on the one hand, and old party mouthpieces on the other.

In March 2005, a bold new tactic emerged in the wake of a nationwide purge by the Ministry of Education of college bulletin-board systems. As Nanjing University, one of the country’s leading academic institutions, readied itself for the launch of a new campus forum after the forced closure of its popular “Little Lily” BBS, school officials recruited a team of zealous students to work part time as “Web commentators.” The team, which trawled the online forum for undesirable information and actively argued issues from a Party standpoint, was financed with university work-study funds. In the months that followed, party leaders across Jiangsu Province began recruiting their own teams of Web commentators. Rumors traveled quickly across the Internet that these Party-backed monitors received 50 mao, or roughly seven cents, for each positive post they made. The term Fifty Cent Party, or wumaodang, was born.

The push to outsource Web controls to these teams of pro-government stringers went national on Jan. 23, 2007, as President Hu urged party leaders to “assert supremacy over online public opinion, raise the level and study the art of online guidance, and actively use new technologies to increase the strength of positive propaganda.” Mr. Hu stressed that the Party needed to “use” the Internet as well as control it.

One aspect of this point was brought home immediately, as a government order forced private Web sites, including several run by Nasdaq-listed firms, to splash news of Mr. Hu’s Internet speech on their sites for a week. Soon after that speech, the General Offices of the cpc and the State Council issued a document calling for the selection of “comrades of good ideological and political character, high capability and familiarity with the Internet to form teams of Web commentators ... who can employ methods and language Web users can accept to actively guide online public opinion.”

By the middle of 2007, schools and party organizations across the country were reporting promising results from their teams of Web commentators. Shanxi Normal University’s 12-member “red vanguard” team made regular reports to local Party officials. One report boasted that team members had managed to neutralize an emerging BBS debate about whether students should receive junior college diplomas rather than vocational certificates, the former being much more valuable in China’s competitive job market. “A question came up among students about what kind of diplomas they would receive upon graduation,” the university report read. “A number of vanguards quickly discovered the postings and worked together to enforce guidance with good results.”

China’s Culture Ministry now regularly holds training sessions for Web commentators, who are required to pass an exam before being issued with job certification. A Chinese investigative report for an influential commercial magazine, suppressed by authorities late last year but obtained by this writer, describes in some detail a September 2007 training session held at the Central Academy of Administration in Beijing, at which talks covered such topics as “Guidance of Public Opinion Problems on the Internet” and “Crisis Management for Web Communications.”

In a strong indication of just how large the Internet now looms in the Party’s daily business, the report quotes Guan Jianwen, the vice president of People’s Daily Online, as saying during the training session: “In China, numerous secret internal reports are sent up to the Central Party Committee through the system each year. Of those few hundred given priority and action by top leaders, two-thirds are now from the Internet Office [of the State Council Information Office].”

The CCP’s growing concern about the Internet is based partly on the recognition of the  Web’s real power. Even with the limitations imposed by traditional and technical systems of censorship—the best example of the latter being the so-called “Great Firewall”—the Internet has given ordinary Chinese a powerful interactive tool that can be used to share viewpoints and information, and even to organize.

But the intensified push to control the Internet, of which China’s Web commentators are a critical part, is also based on a strongly held belief among Party leaders that China, which is to say the CCP, is engaged in a global war for public opinion. In Gongjian, a book released earlier this year that some regard as President Hu’s political blueprint, two influential Party theorists wrote in somewhat alarmist terms of the history of “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. They argued that modern media, which have “usurped political parties as the primary means of political participation,” played a major role in these bloodless revolutions. “The influence of the ruling party faces new challenges,” they wrote. “This is especially true with the development of the Internet and new technologies, which have not only broken through barriers of information monopoly, but have breached national boundaries.”

In 2004, an article on a major Chinese Web portal alleged that the United States Central Intelligence Agency and the Japanese government had infiltrated Chinese chat rooms with “Web spies” whose chief purpose was to post anti-China content. The allegations were never substantiated, but they are now a permanent fixture of China’s Internet culture, where Web spies, or wangte, are imagined to be facing off against the Fifty Cent Party.

Whatever the case, there is a very real conviction among party leaders that China is defending itself against hostile “external forces” and that the domestic Internet is a critical battleground. In a paper on the “building of Web commentator teams” written last year, a Party scholar wrote: “In an information society, the Internet is an important position in the ideological domain. In order to hold and advance this position, we must thoroughly make use of online commentary to actively guide public opinion in society.”

Mr. Hu’s policy of both controlling and using the Internet, which the authors of Gongjian emphasize as the path forward, is the Party’s war plan. Chinese Web sites are already feeling intensified pressure on both counts. “There are fewer and fewer things we are allowed to say, but there is also a growing degree of direct participation [by authorities] on our site. There are now a huge number of Fifty Cent Party members spreading messages on our site,” says an insider at one mainland Web site.

According to this source, Web commentators were a decisive factor in creating a major incident over remarks by CNN’s Jack Cafferty, who said during an April program that Chinese were “goons and thugs.” “Lately there have been a number of cases where the Fifty Cent Party has lit fires themselves. One of the most obvious was over CNN’s Jack Cafferty. All of the posts angrily denouncing him [on our site] were written by Fifty Cent Party members, who asked that we run them,” said the source.

“Priority” Web sites in China are under an order from the Information Office requiring that they have their own in-house teams of government-trained Web commentators. That means that many members of the Fifty Cent Party are now working from the inside, trained and backed by the Information Office with funding from commercial sites. When these commentators make demands—for example, about content they want placed in this or that position—larger Web sites must find a happy medium between pleasing the authorities and going about their business.

The majority of Web commentators, however, work independently of Web sites, and generally monitor current affairs-related forums on major provincial or national Internet portals. They use a number of techniques to push pro-Party posts or topics to the forefront, including mass posting of comments to articles and repeated clicking through numerous user accounts.

“The goal of the government is to crank up the ‘noise’ and drown out progressive and diverse voices on China’s Internet,” says Isaac Mao, a Chinese Web entrepreneur and expert on social media. “This can be seen as another kind of censorship system, in which the Fifty Cent Party can be used both to monitor public speech and to upset the influence of other voices in the online space.”

Some analysts, however, say the emergence of China’s Web commentators suggest a weakening of the Party’s ideological controls. “If you look at it from another perspective, the Fifty Cent Party may not be so terrifying,” says Li Yonggang, assistant director of the Universities Service Centre for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Historically speaking, the greatest strength of the CCP has been in carrying out ideological work among the people. Now, however, the notion of ‘doing ideological work’ has lost its luster. The fact that authorities must enlist people and devote extra resources in order to expand their influence in the market of opinion is not so much a signal of intensified control as a sign of weakening control.”

Whatever the net results for the Party, the rapid national deployment of the Fifty Cent Party signals a shift in the way party leaders approach information controls in China. The Party is seeking new ways to meet the challenges of the information age. And this is ultimately about more than just the Internet. President Hu’s June 20 speech, the first since he came to office in 2002 to lay out comprehensively his views on the news media, offered a bold new vision of China’s propaganda regime. Mr. Hu reiterated former President Jiang Zemin’s concept of “guidance of public opinion,” the idea, emerging in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Massacre, that the Party can maintain order by controlling news coverage. But he also talked about ushering in a “new pattern of public-opinion guidance.”

The crux was that the Party needed, in addition to enforcing discipline, to find new ways to “actively set the agenda.” Mr. Hu spoke of the Internet and China’s new generation of commercial newspapers as resources yet to be exploited. “With the Party [media] in the lead,” he said, “we must integrate the metropolitan media, Internet media and other propaganda resources.”

Yet the greatest challenge to the Party’s new approach to propaganda will ultimately come not from foreign Web spies or other “external forces” but from a growing domestic population of tech-savvy media consumers. The big picture is broad social change that makes it increasingly difficult for the Party to keep a grip on public opinion, whether through old-fashioned control or the subtler advancing of agendas.

This point became clear on June 20, as President Hu visited the official People’s Daily to make his speech on media controls and sat down for what Chinese and Western media alike called an “unprecedented” online dialogue with ordinary Web users. The first question he answered came from a Web user identified as “Picturesque Landscape of Our Country”: “Do you usually browse the Internet?” he asked. “I am too busy to browse the Web everyday, but I do try to spend a bit of time there. I especially enjoy People’s Daily Online’s Strong China Forum, which I often visit,” the president answered.

On the sidelines, the search engines were leaping into action. Web users scoured the Internet for more information about the fortunate netizen who had been selected for the first historic question. Before long the Web was riddled with posts reporting the results. They claimed that Mr. Hu’s exchange was a “confirmed case” of Fifty Cent Party meddling. As it turned out, “Picturesque Landscape of Our Country” had been selected on three previous occasions to interact with party leaders in the same People’s Daily Online forum.

For many Chinese Internet users, these revelations could mean only one thing—Party leaders were talking to themselves after all.

Mr. Bandurski is a free-lance journalist and a scholar at the China Media Project, a research program of the Journalism & Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong.

 

A Chinese translation of this article: 

 

他们被称为五毛党红领巾红卫兵 成长中的网络评阅员队伍——由党组织鼓励、培训和供给经费——只有一个任务:干预和管制高速成长的中国互联网,保障党的利益。通过在聊天室和网络论坛里宣传关于党的正面观点,他们努力中和负面的公众意见,并向政府举报网络中的危险内容。
  据估计,这支评论员队伍在全国的人数到达28万人,这显示出中国的领导人对网络带来的政治挑战的重视。更重要的是,这暗示了中国下一代信息管控的可行办法——胡主席在上个月称其为舆论导向的新方式
  大约在2005年左右,党的领导人在影响网络民意的方式上变得更加创新。中国 统的宣传机器适用于限制新闻和信息自由。各种的事件、网站或是关键词会被禁止、封锁或者过滤。这种审查方式使得党发现自身也陷于被动,无法有效释放自己的 信息。与这种审查方式并存了十多年的媒体商业化改革,在商业化网站、城市媒体与原有的党的喉舌之间撕开了一个公信力和影响力的大口子。
  2005年三月,教育部对全国高校BBS进行了一次全面整治行动,一种新战略由此产生。在中国 好的大学之一——南京大学,原先热门的小百合BBS”被强制关闭。在新论坛上线之前,校方组织了一批热心学生在论坛里作为兼职的网络评阅员。这支负 责过滤不良信息并积极从党的立场进行话题辩论的队伍,是由大学勤工俭学基金资助的。之后,江苏省的各级领导开始招募本地的网络评阅员。网络上盛传这些 由党做后盾的评论员每发一贴得5块(大概7美分。译者注:原文如此)。五毛党的称呼由此而生。
  2007123日,这种将网络 制工作外包给爱党人士组成的队伍的努力达到了高潮。当日,胡主席呼吁各级领导要掌握网上舆论主导权,提高网上引导水平,讲求引导艺术,积极运用新技术, 加大正面宣传力度,形成积极向上的主流舆论。胡主席还强调要切实把一手抓发展、一手抓管理的要求贯彻到网络技术、产业、内容、安全等各个方面。
  以上指示立即得到了贯彻,政府要求各大网站(包括一些纳斯达克上市公司所属网站)将胡主席关于网络的讲话滚动播放一周。之后,中共中央办公厅、国务院办公厅发文,要求选拔政治素质过硬,网络技术水平高的同志,组成网络评阅员队伍...使之能用网民可以接受的方式和语言引导网络舆论。
  2007年年中,全国各地学校和党组织报告了网络 阅员队伍取得的喜人成绩。陕西师范大学的12红卫兵定期向当地党的领导人作报告。一份报告指出这个小组的成员成功平息了BBS上关于学生应该考取大 专文凭还是职业资格证书的争论(前者在就业市场上更具竞争力)。在毕业前应当取得何种证书的问题在学生中出现,一份校报称,很多小组成员迅速发现了 这些帖子并将讨论引向好的结论。
  中国文化部目前定期举办网络评阅员培训班,结业前还需通过考试,取得网络评阅员资格证书。一本有影响的商业杂志中的深度报道描述了20079月的一期在北京中央行政学院举行的培训。在培训中涉及的内容包括:网络民意引导网络沟通中的危机管理等。
  报道引用人民网副总编Guan Jianwen在一期培训中的讲话:中国,每年都会有无数份内参提交给中共中央。现在,在那些被最高领导人给予重视的几百份内参中,有三分之二是由国务院办公厅网络信息办公室提交的。这暗示了网络在多大程度上影响着党的日常工作。
  党对网络重视程度的增加部分是基于对网络真正实力的认识。即使受到了传统和现代的审查手段的限制——后者的例子就是金盾工程,网络赋予了中国普通百姓一个分享观点和信息甚至进行组织的强大的互动工具。
  以网络评阅员为重要组成的网络控制措施同样是基于的党的领导人的一个信念。那就是,中国 或者说党,正处在一次全球舆论战争之中。在今年早些时候出版的《攻坚》一书,被一些人认为是胡主席的政治蓝图。书中,两位党的资深的理论家提及了东欧和中 亚的颜色革命,并对其深感忧虑。他们认为,在上述不流血的革命中,现代媒体扮演了取代政党,成为政治参与的首要方式的重要角色。执政党的影 响力面临新的挑战,他们写道,这随着网络新技术的发展变得迫在眉睫。网络不仅打破了信息垄断的障碍,甚至穿越了国境线。
  2004年,中国的一家门户网站发表了一篇文章指称:美国中央情报局和日本政府的网络间谍渗透至中国的网络聊天室,目的是发布反华信息。这些指责从未得到证实,但它们成为了中国网络文化的一部分:五毛党面对的敌人是网络间谍或者网特
  无论如何,党的领导人都坚信:中国必须抵御敌对的外部势力,国内的互联网是一个重要的战场。在去年写就的《建设网络评阅员队伍》一文中,一位党内学者指出:在信息社会的意识形态领域,网络有着重要的位置。为了占领并改进这块舆论阵地,我们必须充分利用网络评论,积极引导社会公众舆论。
  胡主席对网络管控和利用并举的方针是党的行动指南,被《攻坚》的作者强调为未来之路。中国的网站已经在两方面均感受到了越来越大的压力。允许讲的越来越少了,政府干预越来越多,我们的网站上有大量的五毛党一家大陆网站内部人士说。
  此人还说,网络评阅员是将"CNN杰克.卡弗里"事件扩大化的决定性因素。近期五毛党煽风点火好几次了。最明显的就是"CNN杰克.卡弗里"事件。所有攻击卡弗里的帖子都是他们发的。
  中国的大网站都得到信息办的指示:必须建立网站内部受过政府训练的网络评阅员队伍。这意味着,"五毛党"得以进入网站内部,由信息办训练支持,网站资助。网络评阅员们一发话——比如,想把某条内容放在某个位置——大网站就必须在做生意和取悦政府之间找到平衡。
  当然,大多数网络评阅员在网站外工作,基本上是在监督主要的省级或全国门户网站上的时评论坛。他们使用各种技术将爱党的相关帖子话题推至前台,包括灌水和用多个帐户重复点击。
  政府的目的是增大背景噪音,消除网络上的不和谐音,中国网络企业家及大众媒体专家伊萨克.毛说,这也算是一种审查制度,五毛党既可以监督公众,又可以削弱网络上其他声音的影响。
  然而也有分析家称,网络评阅员的出现标志着党的意识形态控制的降低。从另一个角度讲,五毛党没那么可怕,李永刚(音译)说,他是香港中文大学中国研究中心的副主任,从历史上讲,党的力量源泉来自于群众。现在,意识形态工作失去了原有的地位。当局必须招募人手用更多资源扩大在舆论中的影响这一事实与其说是强化控制的标志,不如说是控制弱化的标志。
  不管网络对党的影响有多大,五毛党的快速部署标志着党的领导对中国 息控制方式的变革。党在寻找面对信息时代挑战的新途径。而这最终不仅仅关系着网络。胡主席六月二十日的讲话,是他在2002年执政来首次综合表述他对新闻 媒体的观点,指明了中国宣传系统的新的前景。胡主席不断强调江泽民在民运之后的引导舆论的思想,也就是党可以通过控制新闻保持稳定。但他也谈到了引进舆论导向的新方式
  问题在于,除了通过强制措施,党还需要寻找新的方法来积极设置议题。胡主席认为网络中国新兴商业媒体是有待利用的资源。在坚持党的领导的同时,他说,我们必须综合利用城市媒体、网络媒体和其他宣传工具。
  党的宣传所面临的挑战并不来自外国网络间谍或是外部势力,而是来自不断壮大且懂得一定技术的国内媒体消费者。未来的情形可能是:广泛的社会变革使党对舆论的控制愈加困难,不论是用传统的还是更不易察觉的手段。
   620日,胡主席视察了《人民日报》,做了关于媒体工作的讲话,并与网民在线聊天,这被国内外媒体称之为史无前例的网上对话。他回答的第一个问题 是名为大好河山美如画的网民提出的:您经常上网吗?”“虽然我平时工作比较忙,不可能每天都上网,但我还是抽时间尽量上网。我特别要讲的是,人民网 强国论坛是我经常上网必选的网站之一。胡主席答道。
  搜索引擎作为旁观者行动起来了。网民们收集了那位问题被第一个回答的网民信息。不久,结论就出来了。他们声称胡主席的交流活动是由五毛党参与的行动。大好河山美如画之前曾被三次选中参与人民网论坛与国家领导人的交流。
  对于许多中国网民来讲,这些都意味着——领导们是在跟自己说话。

 

comments (25)
noel @ 2008-08-10 11:50:04
China is indeed a giant that will feed on other little creatures but her weakness in in her hugeness.The real super power will be a united Europe.China will be a very good runner in the 21th century but I am sure she will never come out first.
whocare @ 2008-08-09 03:39:41
Lord of the 愤s, you are so funny. I like reading your comments. where can I find more?
Lord of the 愤s @ 2008-08-04 13:53:36
我是愤青大王,Oliver Trollwell, 中国最危险的外国网特. My secret duty is to stir up nationalist sentiments in Chinese forums, posing as a Chinese lad in Liaoning province. You can think of me as the 800 pound gorilla in China's guerilla web war. Modern agents like yours truly don't post anti-China content as CIA and NAICHO are alleged to have done in 2004, instead we monitor the 愤青 and 五毛党 discussions then post incredibly irrational comments pushing them over the edge of reason. For example, don't you think it's odd that Jack Cafferty became the scapegoat of CNN media bias while "Communist China" critic Lou Dobbs somehow remained under the radar? We are the Steven Colberts of Chinese forums; supporting the CCP party line to a fault. Our objective is to make the 50 Cent Party's nationalist indignation (国愤) look even more ridiculous (太过分) than they already are, discounting the value of their 愤 (fen) down to a single 分 fen (1 penny). It's literally a lot of "fun"!
John @ 2008-08-04 07:00:14
I'm a long time fan of China, it's people and history. I've been leading tour groups of Americans there roughly twice a year for the past ten years and have in that time seen remarkable changes for the positive. But I've always been puzzled by the seemingly two groups of Chinese I've come to know, real people in China at ll level of education, background and ethnicity, and the ones I read on blogs from Newsweek to the New York Times to this and many others. The Chinese people I know in China are moderate, compassionate and genuinely world-interested. The Chinese people I read on the blogs are rabidly xenophobic and (dangerously) nationalistic. I could never reconcile the two until now. It's been a theory of mine that the consistency and similarity in the harshness of tone in these postings was due to the Chinese government having infiltrated hundreds of thousand of blogs and websites with "minder" commentators. I now look on all comments with dubiousness including those here. If in fact the US and other western governments are following the same path it's no different than how our governments rallied the troops (the people) around their own war-mongering in the 20th century via then traditional means of communications, newspapers. It a sad event to be sure because these belligerent postings are read by sincere readers in all nations causing them to re-think their own moderate views on what it means to be world-citizen and to 'get with' the apparent sentiments of their so-called "fellow countrymen". A very dangerous game this...
Ricardo Luis @ 2008-08-03 05:34:48
I've been studying mass communication and PR for a year and this is a fascinating read on information warfare. It is always intriguing to observe and relate how different governments try and influence the hearts and minds of it's citizens. This is no doubt a classic PR astroturfing move by the Chinese government but I've never seen it deployed so thoroughly except with the "pentagon experts" that was later exposed. I'll definitely be following this closely to see how it affects Chinese thinking.
Orang_Utan @ 2008-08-01 08:23:13
I'm a Chinese speaking overseas Chinese and did participate in online debates at some Chinese forums like tianya.com.cn. My IDs started with "orang_utan_xx" always got banned in tianya.com.cn if I gave negative comments against CCP and Chinese government. Besides, postings with falungkong in Chinese characters are rejected by "China great wall" filter. My point is IF 50-cent party cannot win argument with you in Chinese online forums, they have no hesitate to block your ID and banning you from active participation.
C Ford @ 2008-07-29 09:46:34
Re: Charles Liu's comment on Falun Gong, It's true that Falun Gong adherents both inside and outside China have gone to exceptional lengths to relay information on the web about their torture at the hands of the PRC government. Falun Gong practitioners are also responsible for developing software that effectively breaks through China's internet blockade, bringing internet freedom to tens of millions of people every day. Yet the comparison between Falun Gong and the CCP is completely erroneous. Falun Gong is a disenfranchised meditation practice with no central organization, let alone any funds. Its adherents face torture and death in China's force labor camps (they are estimated to comprise half of the reeducation-through-labor camp population, and two-thirds of torture cases in China, according to the UN's special rapporteur on torture in his 2005 report). Within China, media is not allowed to report on Falun Gong; those who speak on its behalf face severe repercussions. Its efforts to get the word out on the Chinese internet is entirely grassroots and voluntary, and their cause of ending the torture and abuse of their fellow adherents is worth commending.
Wang Fei Hung @ 2008-07-24 14:01:39
A lie repeated a thousand times becomes the truth. THis so-called Free western press owned by Westerners are only as free as to the prejudices and priorities of their owners are concerned. Remember, Osama bin laden was NEVER voted Man of the year by the western press that his accomplishment richly deserved. The world changed overnight and yet, to placate the western readers, governments and the owners of the media that were beholden to their respective customer bases, he was DISQUALIFIED. Long live the fre western press.
Wu Di @ 2008-07-24 07:33:20
Actually I made another comment but it seems to have disappeared...
jjyz @ 2008-07-23 13:27:42
In response to "on the other hand": The comparison with Falun Gong is extremely misleading. Falun Gong is a loosely knit spiritual group which has been horribly persecuted and marginalised. There is no structure or organization in Falun Gong, no leaders, no one in charge, no financing etc.. It's just a set of exercises with a spiritual component, practiced freely around the world and persecuted in China. All the teachings are available for anyone to read on the internet, at falundafa.org. Practitioners are using the internet to bring attention to their plight in China where, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, they are 66% of the all reported torture victims--the next group is something like 7%--and where they are over half of the labor camp population (of many hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions). Practitioners are often tortured to death for their beliefs, or die as a result of torture or beatings meted out by police who try to make them sign a statement condemning their spiritual practice. The whole thing is deeply unjust, immoral, absurd and disgusting. There is no such thing as people being paid to do this. Advocating for Falun Gong is done completely voluntarily, by unconnected individuals who simply do things from their heart, and from a sense of justice. Falun Gong practitioners are victims of the propaganda techniques detailed in this article, and their efforts to raise a voice in response, to call for relief from torture and suppression, are just completely different.
jjyz @ 2008-07-23 10:36:28
In response to "on the other hand": The comparison with Falun Gong is extremely misleading. Falun Gong is a loosely knit spiritual group which has been horribly persecuted and marginalised. There is no structure or organization in Falun Gong, no leaders, no one in charge, no financing etc.. It's just a set of exercises with a spiritual component, practiced freely around the world and persecuted in China. All the teachings are available for anyone to read on the internet, at falundafa.org. Practitioners are using the internet to bring attention to their plight in China where, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, they are 66% of the all reported torture victims--the next group is something like 7%--and where they are over half of the labor camp population (of many hundreds of thousands, or perhaps millions). Practitioners are often tortured to death for their beliefs, or die as a result of torture or beatings meted out by police who try to make them sign a statement condemning their spiritual practice. The whole thing is deeply unjust, immoral, absurd and disgusting. There is no such thing as people being paid to do this. Advocating for Falun Gong is done completely voluntarily, by unconnected individuals who simply do things from their heart, and from a sense of justice. Falun Gong practitioners are victims of the propaganda techniques detailed in this article, and their efforts to raise a voice in response, to call for relief from torture and suppression, are just completely different.
Charles Frith @ 2008-07-22 12:07:38
Social order embraced by the Chinese is just another way of looking at the world. It has massive flaws but no more so than say the actions of the so called free world in many places that they haven't been invited into. I keep saying it, as a resident of Beijing, that China is both thousands of years old, and yet at the same time lacks maturity. That's all one needs to keep an eye out for in any dialogue with the Chinese who are on the whole like most human beings on the planet interested in have a healthy and prosperous life.
Peter M @ 2008-07-22 08:10:30
@David: Thanks for this insightful piece. It taps into a thus far neglected part of China's Internet and brings across what some Western scholars have said for a few years now: That all politics is 'media politics' -- and thus the way we have to think about politics is changing. Binary blinders may well be a convenient tool used to keep people ignorant (in other words: "guide public opinion"), and I think that Intellectuals in China are hardly surprised about the 'harmonious' landscapes that are produced by people who are "talking to themselves", as you put it. If we want to know in what ways things are changing in China we need to read between the lines and look at the fringes of society -- to unearth something that I think has some similarity to the fascinating hidden social commentary that was going on in the former GDR. After all, based on my experiences living in China, I don't think that China is a 'rising enemy nation' as some commentators do. It is a place in which 1.3+bn individuals are living together and trying to make sense of their worlds, and it is a place with increasing appreciation of diversity.
Wu Di @ 2008-07-22 07:55:27
@ "Josie Nguyen": You point out that "in their mind [the mind of ordinary Chinese people], there is no separation between 'the government' and 'the nation'." However, I would draw a very different conclusion: If I was a government (Chinese or U.S. or other) I would be interested in having many loyal citizens. Therefore I would love my people to be ignorant of this distinction. Talking about "the enemies of China" and all the other 'friend vs. foe' binary blinders distracts from the real issues and responsibilities. Don't you think?
Wu Di @ 2008-07-22 07:54:22
We'll see whether the increasingly fierce battle for global and national public opinions by utilizing (global and local) media politics (or warfare) will some day allow for more civic-minded global solidarity or will simply create a new 'cold war' era with nationalist extremists dictating the thought processes and policies on all sides. I am young enough to still hope for the former but also old and experienced enough to expect the latter. Humanity is what it is. Or is it?
neoe @ 2008-07-21 09:05:56
haha, what is shame.
jihn ed @ 2008-07-19 14:26:53
i live in us. I tried to post comment criticizing US government abuse of killing power in IRQA in New York Times, my post did never appear. I tried Washington Post, same fate. All bats in the world are black.
lu sisheng @ 2008-07-17 22:20:26
Charles Liu, What you claimed you are ,nor not is nothing to do with what you actually is, even if you are a dog on the other end of your pc! who cares ! But we do care about what you are telling here. Already tons of facts and even thos 50 cents party has show up,on every where,even in Chinese official media, their activitis is not a secret,but an open threat to our chinese. I WISH YOU ARE NOT ONE OF THEM.
Suzy @ 2008-07-17 09:55:59
Heard of this never-been-opened web from a friend. Escape from mainland,China, and finally can read it in HongKong. I am very glad and sad also.
John Wayne @ 2008-07-16 23:22:37
There is no doubt that China is a rising enemy nation! Why else does China continue to deploy an ever larger, and more deadly, arsenal of ICBMs (inter-continental ballistic missiles) at US cities? Chinas new Dong-Feng 41 ICBM is being deployed in ever larger numbers at US cities! China is also building nuclear submarines, and other naval vessels! The fact that US finances have been mismanaged to the extent that China now holds over 1 trillion dollars in reserves is probably a large part of why the US has not CONFRONTED China on its extreme military build-up! I always chuckle when Asians begin pontificating on the virtues of "diversity"...for western nations! Japan, Korea, Taiwan all face similar "demographic dilemmas" as western nations, yet can you IMAGINE any of them contemplating immigration as THEIR savior? Japan is already seeing its population decline as deaths outnumber births while its population ages rapidly! If "diversity" is necessary for a modern economy, how then do you explain China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan? Will China embrace "diversity" anytime soon and allow immigration? The treatment by China of North Korean REFUGEES says no! The repression against Tibets says no! Just this week, 100s of foreign workers rioted in Shanghai to protest mistreatment! In short; China is a rising enemy!
Qrio @ 2008-07-16 19:41:19
Things have been completely harmonized in China now.
anonymous @ 2008-07-16 11:22:21
Well, this is "guerrilla war" in the style of Che rather than Mao (not Isaac), a sort of romantic protest that lacks a base on which to make real democratic change. The bloggers or forum users are lacking skills to organize real people over issues or even develop the issues from the problems. All they can do is serve as victims and protest, serving in any case only to increase the strength of the government. I don't think the rooms of monitors really affect behavior in the real world. Few students (and it is mostly students or intellectuals we are discussing here, the middle class or lower classes don't have access to the net or concern for politics. ) are more interested in getting rich or Wesetern popular culture than they are in politics or social matters. There are plenty of methods such as Tor or free VPN that can get through the Golden Shield or the 50 mao monitors, but it is not lack of knowledge of them that is the problem, it is that the blog is not of real concern to readers--just as most blogs are in the West. When students get through the firewall where do they go, pornography? The ambition of bloggers is generally to be first with some emotionally affecting news and then have it be taken up by a more reputable media outlet so that the government is embarassed and changes something. But there are never any victories, the government always comes out on top as the bloggers cannot organize a base and develop a method to change things in the long run. Actually the mass protests such as in Tibet or Xiamen or Guizhou were probably organized by mobile phones rather than computer forums. And they are against local officials not the central government or party. Mr Bandurski might rather devote his attention to helping journalists in China and bloggers to develop some professional ethics and some way of enforcing them in their community. They need to serve the people professionally instead of charging the people they interview for publicizing causes. Their corruption is as bad as the yellow journalism of the imperialists that afflicted China. As the media move from TV and newspapers to computers and then to mobile handheld devices, there is more room for real democracy and the voice of the people to emerge, from the bottom up rather than top down. Westerners and especially Americans are very concerned that computers and economic growth under free enterprise lead to some political democracy and free speech with diverse views. Most Chinese are not so concerned about free speech or democracy, but rather prize social harmony and consensus and growth. This may change, but if economic growth continues then there is no guarantee that free speech and democracy will emerge at all. If it lags, then also no reason to think that Western ways would be the preferred alternative. There are a lot of Western companies trying to make money from Web 2.0 investments in China. For the most part they have not been able to adapt to Chinese ways, and they have all had to cooperate with the government. The Chinese startups are mostly copies of Western software and more interested in establishing a Chinese market than they are in developing free speech. Look to mobile phones rather than computers for affect on social change. In China they are for the most part anonymous. This means they can only do certain things, as then it is difficult to establish a reputation and organize continuity. But they will be the media in the hands of the people rather than just students or intellectuals and can make bottom up social communication and change possible.
on the other hand @ 2008-07-15 08:14:20
1. Falungong has allegedly been doing this for years, paying people to defame their arch rival the CCP in Chinese language bulletin board systems such as mitbbs.com, the most popular web forum among overseas Chinese students. Someone should run an investigative report on Falungong as well, as it seems to be the real pioneer on this front. (BTW, Falungong's propaganda machine seems very much like their CCP counterpart. You will know what I mean if you have read Falungong newspapers. ) 2. Does this figure 280,000 include web monitors and censors as well as web commentators? I suspect it's all those combined. 3. Reports like this are good, but they also have an unfortunate effect: anyone who is genuinly sympathetic with China and sometimes defends China's policies will now be suspected of being a fifty-center, and felt pressured to shut up, just like what many Americans felt after 9/11 about criticizing the US government---they may be labeled "unpatriotic". BTW, will I be suspected of a wumaodang? If so where can I get my fifty cents?
Charles Liu @ 2008-07-15 04:42:06
Let me just first declar that 1) I'm not from mainland China; 2) I have never been a citizen of the PRC; 3) I have never been paid by anyone, including the Chinese government, to comment/blog/post on usenet. My opinion of this article is exteremely poor: Paragraph 4 a) Where is the connection between Nanjing University using school fund for BBS and larger government directive or alleged subsquent actions? Also the "zealous students" is something seen thru the authro's tinted eyes isn't it? b) "Rumors traveled quickly across the Internet" is proof of anything isn't it? This is a rumor where netters resort to 5 year old name calling that's been taken seriousley by FEER. Paragraph 5 The supposed direction from Hu not only isn't found in the public records, it doesn't even mention hiring commentors. It could be refering to using the internet in offical capacity, or writing official content that's more accessible to potential audiences. Paragraph 7 a) Where's the connection between Shanxi Normal University’s activity on their BBS and any higher government direction? b) The example referenced was in the case of question on school administration. Had there been example of politics or national issues that example surely would be highlighted. Instead the article asks its readers to make a logical inference that's insufficiently established. Paragraph 8 “Guidance of Public Opinion Problems on the Internet” and “Crisis Management for Web Communications.” could be, again, refering to content in official capacity. Paragraph 9 "State Council Information Office" is again, refering to offical contents. Where is the reference to paid commentators? Paragraph 12 Again an unsubstantiated allegation is presented, and strenghthened by claim of "permanent fixture". Equally convincing as the UFO and 9/11 conspiracy which are also a permanent fixture of the Internet. Paragraph 14 a) Outrage over Jack Caferty's "goons and thugs" comment was instigated by these unsubstantiated web commentors? The articles use of "an insider at one mainland Web site" certainly is convincing. b) My participation over Caferty's hurtful remark, as an outraged American, was not at anyone's behest or patronage. My source, anti-CNN, also claims to be unpaid participant. I find such broad brush insinuation insulting. I stop reading this piece of anti-Chinese propaganda at this point. Shame on you FEER.
Josie Nguyen @ 2008-07-15 01:06:12
It's a fair game and China has every right to use the Net to counter its detractors the same way they are using it to attack China. If people are willing to actively promote the party line for 50 cents, it could be said that people are either: (a) stupid or (b) they do support the party or (c) a more informed explanation is that in China as well as in many Asian countries like Vietnam, North/South Korea, etc., any verbal attacks initiated by pro-Western domestic commentators or foreigners against the government will be interpreted by ordinary people as an attack on the motherland; in their mind, there is no separation between 'the government' and 'the nation'. And this does present a communication challenge to the real enemies of China such as American Neo-cons and other political opportunists, as well as to the more legitimate and progressive elements from the West and within China.
 
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