50 Cent Party

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50 Cent Party
Simplified Chinese 五毛党
Traditional Chinese 五毛黨
Internet commentator(s)
Simplified Chinese 网络评论员
Traditional Chinese 網絡評論員

The 50 Cent Party (Chinese: 五毛党) are Internet commentators (Chinese: 网络评论员) hired by the government of the People's Republic of China (both local and central) or the Communist Party to post comments favorable towards party policies in an attempt to shape and sway public opinion on various Internet message boards.[1][2] The commentators are said to be paid fifty cent of Renminbi for every post that either steers a discussion away from anti-party or sensitive content on domestic websites, bulletin board systems, and chatrooms,[3] or that advances the Communist party line.[4][5]

History[edit]

In October 2004, the Publicity Department of Changsha started hiring Internet commentators, in one of the earliest known uses of professional Internet commentators.[6][7]

In March 2005, the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China enacted a systematic censorship of Chinese college bulletin board systems. The popular "Little Lily" BBS, ran by Nanjing University, was forced to close. As a new system was prepared to be launched, school officials hired students as part-time web commentators, paid from the university's work-study funds, to search the forum for undesirable information and actively counter it with Party-friendly viewpoints. In the following months, party leaders from Jiangsu province began hiring their own teams.[8] By mid-2007, web commentator teams recruited by schools, and party organizations were common across China. Shanghai Normal University employed undergraduates to monitor for signs of dissent and post on university forums.[9] These commentators not only operate within political discussions, but also in general discussions.[8][9] Afterwards, some schools and local governments also started to build similar teams.[10][11][12]

On 23 January 2007, Chinese leader Hu Jintao demanded a "reinforcement of ideological and public opinion front construction and positive publicity" at the 38th collective learning of Politburo.[13] Large Chinese websites and local governments have been requested to publish the sayings of Hu, and select "comrades with good political quality" to form "teams of Internet commentators" by the CPC Central Committee (中共中央办公厅) and General Office of the State Council (国务院办公厅).[8][14]

Negative reporting of local authorities has increased on the internet since then.[15] In one instance described on the China Digital Times, the Jiaozuo (Henan) City Public Security Bureau established a mechanism to analyse public opinion after criticism of the police handling of a traffic incident appeared on the internet. The Bureau responded with 120 staff calling for the truth to be revealed in line with the public opinion, which gradually shifted and eventually supported the police position, denouncing the original poster.[15][16] In the aftermath of the 2008 Guizhou riot, internet forums were filled with posts critical of the local authorities; the China News Weekly later reported that "the major task of the propaganda group was to organize commentators to past [sic] posts on websites to guide online public opinions."[16]

In 2010, the Shanghai Communist Youth League's official website published a summary, saying that there were more than 200 topics by Shanghai Municipal Authorities' Internet commentators posted at People's Daily site, Xinhua site, Eastday (东方网), Sina and Tianya after many incidents in 2009, including Lotus Riverside incident, Green Dam software forced installation, Putuo Urban Administrative incident, H1N1's control, Shanghai entrapment incident (钓鱼执法), Pan Rong (潘蓉)'s self-immolation, etc. It was praised by Shanghai Internet Publicity Office.[17]

Range of operation[edit]

The Ministry of Culture of the People's Republic of China now holds regular training sessions, whose participants are required to pass an exam after which they are issued a job certification.[8] Some estimates[1] claim thousands of such commentators while other estimates put their numbers as high as 280,000–300,000.[8][18]

According to the Chinese Communists' opinions of the recruitment of university Work Committee (tentative), the university Internet commentators are mainly selected from cadres or student cadres at Communist Party Publicity Department of universities, Youth League, Office of Academic Affairs, Network Center, Admissions Employment Department, Political Theory Department, Teaching Department and other units.[19]

The court of Qinghe District, Huai'an organized a team of 12 commentators.[20] Gansu Province hired 650 commentators, sorted by their writing abilities.[21] Suqian Municipal Publicity Department's first 26 commentators' team were reported by Yangtse Evening Post in April 2005.[22] According to high-profile independent Chinese blogger Li Ming, the pro-Chinese government web commentators must number "at least in the tens of thousands".[23]

Wen Yunchao (温云超), a formal Internet commentator said that there were about 20 full-time commentators for the local news websites in Guangdong. A county-level discipline inspection commission's Internet commentator estimated more than 100 spare-time Internet commentator in his county, whose population was about 1 million. Hu Yong, an Internet expert from Peking University, said that "the public opinion molders have already penetrated different layers of Chinese society", he found public opinion watchmen that deal with negative information on the forums in tourist city's airport and county-level middle school.[6]

Amnesty International secretary-general Salil Shetty in March 2011 warned that countries, like China and Iran, were investing "considerable resources into pro-government blogs" in an effort to cement state power.[23]

Every large Chinese website is instructed by the Information Office to create a trained team of Internet commentators.[8]

In a leaked propaganda directive to 50 cent party internet commentators, their objective was stated as:[24][25]

In order to circumscribe the influence of Taiwanese democracy, in order to progress further in the work of guiding public opinion, and in accordance with the requirements established by higher authorities to “be strategic, be skilled,” we hope that internet commentators conscientiously study the mindset of netizens, grasp international developments, and better perform the work of being an internet commentator. For this purpose, this notice is promulgated as set forth below:

(1) To the extent possible make America the target of criticism. Play down the existence of Taiwan.
(2) Do not directly confront [the idea of] democracy; rather, frame the argument in terms of “what kind of system can truly implement democracy.”
(3) To the extent possible, choose various examples in Western countries of violence and unreasonable circumstances to explain how democracy is not well-suited to capitalism.
(4) Use America’s and other countries’ interference in international affairs to explain how Western democracy is actually an invasion of other countries and [how the West] is forcibly pushing [on other countries] Western values.
(5) Use the bloody and tear-stained history of a [once] weak people [i.e., China] to stir up pro-Party and patriotic emotions.
(6) Increase the exposure that positive developments inside China receive; further accommodate the work of maintaining [social] stability.[24][25]

Salary[edit]

The English version of China-based Global Times reported that Changsha Publicity Department's Internet commentators were paid 0.5 yuan per post, which is considered as the origin of the term "50 Cent Party". However, according to the local party-building website, the basic salary of such commentators was 600 yuan in 2006.[6][7]

In 2010, the Internet commentators from Hengyang Municipal Committee Party School were paid 0.1 yuan per post and less than 100 yuan's monthly bonus.[26][27]

A county-level discipline inspection commission's Internet commentator from Hunan Province told Global Times that a 500 word article is worth 40 yuan on local websites and 200 yuan on national sites.[6]

Terms[edit]

There is an alternate official term for the Internet Commentator, as well as several unofficial terms coined by netizens for them:

Chinese (Simp/Trad) Pinyin Literally in English Commonly in English Note
Official name (Primary) /網絡評論員 wǎngluò pínglùn yuán Internet commentator Internet commentator Abbreviation in Chinese: 网评员/網評員 (wǎng píng yuán)
Official name (Secondary) /網絡閱評員 wǎngluò yuè píng yuán Internet examiner and commentator N/A
Unofficial term /五毛黨 or simply 五毛 wǔmáo dǎng or wǔmáo 5 mao[Note 1] Party or 5 mao 50 Cent Party The most common name, pejorative. Other English translation: 50 Cent Army
Unofficial term /網評猿 wǎng píng yuán Ape who comments on Internet N/A Pronounced identically with the above Chinese wǎng píng yuán 网评员 abbreviation, punning yuán ( "ape; monkey") for yuán ( "personnel, staff member"), pejorative
Other English terms /紅馬甲, /紅衛兵 hóng mǎjiǎ, hóng wèibīng Red vest; Red guard Red vest, Red vanguard[16][28] The Chinese translation for these English terms are rarely used

Among those names, "50 Cent Party" (五毛党) is the most common and pejorative unofficial term.[29] It was created by Chinese netizens as a satire. Many trace the origin of the "50 cent" name to the salaries at the Publicity Department of Changsha, which according to the English version of Global Times, supplemented Internet Commentators' basic income with 50 cent ("5 mao") [Note 1] per post since October 2004.[6]

The term is derogatorily applied by cynical Chinese netizens to any person who blatantly expresses pro-Communist Party thoughts online.[4] However, there's another word "5 US cent (五美分)" used by some pro-party netizens to denigrate anti-party, pro-democracy comments, with the implication that those commentators are hired by the governments of the United States, Taiwan or other "western" countries. Zhang Shengjun, a professor of international politics at Beijing Normal University published an article Who would be afraid of the cap of "50 Cent Party"? on the Chinese version of Global Times, claiming that spread by western media outfits, "it has become a baton waved towards all Chinese patriots" to make the Chinese government a constant target of criticism.[6][30]

The Hong Kong-based Apple Daily reported that although a search for "五毛党" ("50 Cent Party" in Chinese) on a search engine produces results, most were inaccessible and had been deleted.[31]

Effects and opinions[edit]

The Internet commentator/50 Cent Party's activities were described by CPC General Secretary, Chinese President Hu Jintao as "a new pattern of public-opinion guidance";[32][33] they represent a shift from erasing dissenting opinions to guiding dialogue since otherwise the "truth may hurt social stability".[6] In 2010, a contributor to the Huffington Post stated that some comments she received on one of her posts were from the 50 Cent Party;[34] she also stated that the 50 Cent Party monitors popular US websites, news sites and blogs and posts comments that advance Chinese governmental interests.[34]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b "毛" (máo), formally known as "jiao", is a colloquial unit of current Chinese currency Renminbi which equals to 0.1 basic unit yuan.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Bristow, Michael (16 December 2008). "China's internet 'spin doctors'". BBC News Online. 
  2. ^ "Internet Spin for Stability Enforcers", Sophie Beach, China Digital Times, 25 May 2010
  3. ^ China employs army of piece-rate ‘netizens’ for online thought control. Tibetan Review. 2 January 2009
  4. ^ a b Vembu, Venkatesan (2 January 2009). "Big Brother 2.0 is here". Daily News and Analysis (India). Retrieved 11 January 2009. 
  5. ^ Cook, Sarah; Shum, Maggie (11 October 2011). "China’s growing army of paid internet commentators". Freedom House. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Zhang Lei (5 February 2010). "Invisible footprints of online commentators". Global Times English version. Archived from the original on 8 February 2010. Retrieved 7 February 2010. 
  7. ^ a b Publicity Department of Hefei (24 May 2006). "关于南昌、长沙、郑州宣传文化工作的考察报告 (An Investigative Report Regarding Cultural Propaganda Work in Nanchang, Changsha, and Zhengzhou)" (in Simplified Chinese). [dead link] Screenshot
  8. ^ a b c d e f Bandurski, David (July 2008). "China's Guerrilla War for the Web". Far Eastern Economic Review. Archived from the original on 22 January 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2009. 
  9. ^ a b As Chinese Students Go Online, Little Sister Is Watching. The New York Times. 9 May 2006
  10. ^ "宿迁26名网评员今上岗" (in Simplified Chinese). sohu. Retrieved 10 September 2010. 
  11. ^ "关于进一步加强互联网管理工作的实施意见" (in Simplified Chinese). Government of Golog, Qinghai. Retrieved 10 September 2010.  (Chinese)
  12. ^ "巴中市人事局采取四大措施加强网络舆情监控" (in Simplified Chinese). Sichuan Provincial People's Government. Retrieved 10 September 2010. 
  13. ^ "胡锦涛:以创新的精神加强网络文化建设和管理" (in Simplified Chinese). xinhua. Archived from the original on 30 August 2010. Retrieved 10 September 2010. 
  14. ^ "特稿:党布阵网络人民战争" (in Simplified Chinese). dwnews. Retrieved 10 September 2010. 
  15. ^ a b Nan, Wu. Chinese Bloggers on the History and Influence of the “Fifty Cent Party”. China Digital Times. 15 May 2008
  16. ^ a b c Zhong, Wu. China's Internet awash with state spies. Asia Times Online. 14 August 2008
  17. ^ "市级机关团工委2009年度工作总结 (2009 summary of works of the Municipal Authorities Youth League Working Committee)" (in Simplified Chinese). Shanghai Communist Youth League official site. 20 January 2010. Retrieved 20 January 2010. "2009年,市级机关网评员在市网宣办的业务指导下,先后参与了莲花河畔景苑倒楼事件、强制安装“绿坝”网络屏蔽软件、普陀区城管打人事件、甲型 H1N1 流感防控、“倒钩”执法事件、闵行区潘蓉自焚事件、地铁事故频发等以涉沪舆情为重点的网上舆论引导工作,在人民网、新华网、东方网及新浪、天涯社区等国内重点网站、主要商业网站、大型网络社区。发帖、跟帖、转帖200余篇,东方网评论频道录用各类网评文章20余篇,工作得到市网宣办的肯定。" [dead link]
  18. ^ Fareed, Malik. China joins a turf war. The Guardian. 22 September 2008
  19. ^ “为认真贯彻落实《中共中央、国务院关于进一步加强和改进大学生思想政治教育的意见》(中发〔2004〕16号)和《教育部、共青团中央关于进一步加强高等学校校园网络管理工作的意见》(教社政〔2004〕17号)精神,牢牢把握网上舆论主导权,为我省高等教育改革发展稳定提供良好的舆论环境,努力构建社会主义和谐校园,现就加强高校网络评论员队伍建设提出以下意见。”
  20. ^ "清河法院组建互联网网评工作队" (in Simplified Chinese). Huai'an Intermediate People's Court. Archived from the original on 14 April 2010. 
  21. ^ "甘肅將建650人網絡評論員隊伍引導輿論". Sina. 20 January 2010. Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  22. ^ "宿迁26名网评员今上岗". Sohu. 29 April 2005. Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  23. ^ a b "China's web spin doctors spread Beijing's message". Sydney Morning Herald. 12 May 2011. Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  24. ^ a b Qiang, Xiao. "Leaked Propaganda Directives and Banned "Future" | China Digital Times (CDT)". China Digital Times. Retrieved 28 November 2011. 
  25. ^ a b http://chinadigitaltimes.net/chinese/2011/06/网评员《上级通知》/ (Chinese)
  26. ^ "《党校阵地》网评员管理办法" [Party school front Internet commentators Regulations] (in Simplified Chinese). 中国衡阳党建网 (China Hengyang Party-building website). 8 January 2010. Retrieved 22 January 2010. [dead link] Screenshot
  27. ^ "中共衡阳市委党校《党校阵地》网评员管理办法" (in Simplified Chinese). Cenews. 21 January 2010. Retrieved 3 March 2011. 
  28. ^ Elgan, Mike (8 January 2009). "How China's '50 Cent Army' Could Wreck Web 2.0". Datamation (JupiterOnlineMedia). Archived from the original on 16 January 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2009. 
  29. ^ Garnaut, John (14 July 2010). "China's plan to use internet for propaganda". The Age (Australia). Retrieved 17 October 2010. 
  30. ^ ""五毛党"帽子能吓住谁?" [Who would be afraid of the cap of "50 Cent Party"?] (in Simplified Chinese). Global Times. 20 January 2010. Retrieved 4 March 2011. 
  31. ^ "China hires, trains 'online commentators' to influence public opinion – daily". Apple Daily. 5 October 2007
  32. ^ Podger, Corrinne (21 August 2008). "China marshalls army of bloggers". Radio Australia. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008. Retrieved 11 January 2009. 
  33. ^ "Propaganda leaders scurry off to carry out the "spirit" of Hu Jintao’s "important" media speech". China Media Project. 25 June 2008. Retrieved 11 January 2009. 
  34. ^ a b Usha, Haley (4 October 2010). "China's Fifty Cent Party for Internet Propaganda". Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 February 2011. 

External links[edit]