Rachel Lu

What’s What on Weibo, China’s Twitter – The Main Characters

After What’s What on Weibo – The Lay of the Land, Tea Leaf Nation brings you the main characters involved in the War of Wordcraft in China’s social media. Please email us at editors@tealeafnation.com if you would like to suggest a new term to add to the list.

A Fifty Cent Banknote

To understand why there are two cute alpacas on this picture, please see our next installment.

五毛党 (wu mao dang) = Fifty Cents Party = Defenders of the Chinese government and/or the Communist party

“Pump Up the Regime or Die Tryin’” may be the motto of this fearsome army of online commentators, conjured by “relevant departments” of the Chinese government to “guide public opinion” and battle all possible “subversive elements” online. They are reportedly paid fifty Chinese cents (about US$0.08) for every post that either defends the government’s stance or disputes countervailing viewpoints. The term has been expanded to include all defenders of the regime, whether or not there is any evidence of them being in the government’s pocket. See, e.g. Tea Leaf Nation’s coverage on Who’s Who’s on Weibo – Conservatives.

公知 (gong zhi) = Public Intellectual = Vocal writers, academics, journalists, lawyers, and social critics

The advent of social media in China has freed a small fellowship of (mostly liberal) public intellectuals from the shackles of traditional press and publication censorship techniques. They have blossomed into important opinion leaders online through their attention to hot-button social events. They are the mortal enemy of the Fifty Cents Party, who sees these public intellectuals as unpatriotic elitists out of touch with Chinese realities, and uses the term as a pejorative. See, e.g. Tea Leaf Nation’s coverage on Who’s Who’s on Weibo - Writers and Economists and Academics.

围观者 (wei guan zhe) = Onlooker = Social media users who actively opine on a certain event

Armed with the slogan “onlooking is changing China,” many netizens are fond of gathering around the proverbial water cooler to discuss events of the day. Such topics sometimes go viral and may affect the authorities’ handling of an issue. With so many events competing for onlookers’ limited attention span, however, many issues quickly fall into the unforgiving cycle that Tea Leaf Nation has outlined. On the other hand, onlookers can reach from cyberspace into the real world and subject the individuals involved to mob justice.

酱油党 (jiang you dang) = Soy Sauce Party = Apathetic onlookers

A netizen is said to be “getting soy sauce” if she expresses indifference to an issue, either out of true apathy or mere frustration stemming from her powerlessness to change the state of affairs. For the etymologically curious, the origin of this phrase dates back to the infamous Edison Chen photo scandal.

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Rachel Lu

Rachel Lu is a co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation. Rachel traces her ancestry to Southern China. She spent much of her childhood memorizing Chinese poetry. After long stints in New York, New Haven and Cambridge, she has returned to China to bear witness to its great transformation. She is currently based in China.
  • Cherri

    Great post, thank you! Quick question – I skimmed through the Edison Chen wiki page but couldn’t find reference of the etymological origin of the Soy Sauce Party. Could you elaborate a bit?

    • admin

      Dear Cherri, thanks for your question. When the Edison Chen scandal broke in 2008 and dominated Sinophone Internet for a good month or two, every one had a view about it — be it horror, disgust, fascination or in the timeless words of the U.S. Supreme Court, “prurient interest.” Everyone except one, apparently. A television news crew interviewed a man on the streets of Guangzhou and asked him what he thought about the scandal. He said “what the [expletive] does it have to do with me? I’m out to get soy sauce.” The quote went viral and immediately became an Internet meme. “Getting soy sauce” came to mean one is being indifferent, a bystander, even the silent majority.

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