- Tessa Wong y BBC China
- BBC News
With her broad smile, Chinese blogger Guyanmuchan has a friendly image on Weibo, a Chinese social network similar to Twitter.
The young woman has more than 6.4 million devoted followers on the platform, where she publishes current images and videos.
And all that cute aesthetic of her brand — her page headed by the dreamy image of a girl in a forest — sometimes camouflages her acid tone.
The European Union has the United States “on a leash,” it said in a recent post. The rise in COVID-19 cases in the state of Texas is evidence of a “civil war” in which “Americans are killing each other with biological weapons” in another.
Guyanmuchan is part of a new generation of bloggers known as ziganwu, whose fame on social media is increasing as nationalism does in the country.
Its name comes from the wumao, an army of trolls who are paid to spread state propaganda. The difference is that ziganwu they do it for free.
With their scathing text messages and videos, shared by tens of thousands of followers, they frequently criticize Western countries and media.
They also tend to address issues such as feminism, human rights, multiculturalism and democracy, considerwalking them part of the Western influence that “corrupts” Chinese society.
And they also target those they see as “promoting separatism,” such as pro-democracy activists in Taiwan and Hong Kong, intellectuals and experts.
Their targets have included writer Fang Fang, whose scathing account of the first stage of the pandemic in Wuhan attracted international attention in late 2019.
In a post that went viral last year, the blogger ziganwu Shangdizhiying accused the author of “give a deep stab in the back“ and to create “one of the greatest weapons used by anti-China forces to smear” the country.
More recently, medical expert Zhang Wenhong became a target of these bloggers after suggesting that China should learn to live with COVID-19, which was considered in contradiction to the official discourse.
Immediately some ziganwu They found an old thesis of his and charged him with plagiarism, a charge that was later cleared up by his university.
The suggestion that children should have milk for breakfast was taken as a sign that he was rejecting the traditional Chinese breakfast. “Is not this adore too much West and flatter to the foreigners?”wrote Pingminwangxiaoshi.
These types of posts, which are shared by dozens on social media every day, are usually short and emotional messages, one of the reasons they go viral, experts say.
“It is like the fast foodof nationalism“says Chinese social media analyst Manya Koetse, drawing a parallel.
“People take a bite, share it, and then forget it.”
Many see the growth of Chinese patriotic sentiment as a result of rising tensions between Beijing and the West, but that’s only part of the story.
While, in a globalized world like ours, nationalism has been on the rise in many places, in China it has coincided with the strong President Xi Jinping’s Promotion of a Chinese Identity and the ubiquity of social media.
Many of the ziganwu they are “usually young, who were raised in patriotism and pride in their country, nurtured by the historical memory of national humiliation,” says Koetse.
“So they have an explosive mix of anti-foreign and pro-Chinese sentiments, with an emphasis on Chinese culture and identity,” Koetse added.
Its increasing prominence is surprising, considering that China applies increasingly strict rules to what can be published on the internet, which has resulted in heavy censorship among activists but also ordinary citizens.
Publications on “Sensitive” topics are usually removed regularly from platforms like Weibo and WeChat.
On the contrary, the voices that promote the official speech of the Chinese government have been given free rein, according to observers, and in some cases they have even been amplified by the state media, which have echoed these contents. online.
It is unknown if the ziganwu have direct links with the stateBut some have been invited to events and awarded honorary titles by provincial governments.
Guyanmuchan, whose real name is Shu Chang, was first noticed in 2014, when his text titled “You are a Chinese person” it was widely disseminated in the mainstream media.
Since then, he has participated in blogging events organized by the Yantai city government and in a conference sponsored by the state news outlet Youth.cn.
In addition, in July she was appointed an “internet ambassador” in Guangdong province.
Guyanmuchan did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment on the matter.
A symbiotic relationship
The ziganwu they are just one part of that complex ecosystem.
Much of the patriotic discourse on Chinese social media, particularly on Weibo, is still being driven by state media, which often encourage discussions by creating and promoting hashtagor labels.
But there is also a small group of influencers who have fueled that outrage machine, which includes digital artists, small media, respected college professors, and even vloggers international.
China’s internet regulations encourage users to actively promote propaganda and many of these influencers are simply exploiting this system, believes Harpre Ke, an analyst at the think tank independiente Doublethink Lab.
“They are opportunistic. If you want to make a career as an influencer on social media, you can take advantage and become famous in that toxic nationalist environment,” he says.
While the state may not pay them directly, these influencers They benefit from having their profiles promoted in national media and by using this recognition to build their personal brands, analysts say.
With the increase in the number of followers, may get to earn a lot of money for advertising or the paid content.
Journalism and communications expert Fang Kecheng estimates that social media accounts with more than a million followers could earn the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
And the State also benefits, experts point out.
When he invites them to participate in talks, he delegates to them the “work of ideology, turning them into icons and successful (and propagandistic) models to follow,” adds Ke.
Platforms like Weibo and Wechat they play a role in promoting publications that foster loyalty to the Communist Party of China, Fang says.
In addition, they also benefit commercially. “It increases user engagement and activity, so it is a very good strategy for them,” he added.
But the line is very fine and there have been times when some influencers, with their fervor, they have crossed it.
In recent months they removed some posts from ziganwu who speculated that COVID-19 had been leaked from a laboratory in the United States and others who attacked epidemiologist Zhang Wenhong.
Likewise, a passionate text calling for radical communist reforms went viral and was broadcast by state media, but was later censored after an online controversy.
“Sometimes the rules about what you can and cannot say can be unclear“, dijo Koetse.
“Sometimes a post on Weibo is enough for these influencers disappear. ”
“They can be helpful for official speeches, as long as your personal convictions are in line with the official position, but the moment they are no longer consideredOuseful or perceived to go against the discourse [del gobierno], it is must and“.
But many are prepared to play this high-stakes game.
In late September, Guyanmuchan was banned from posting new content on its Weibo page for 15 days, and the platform stated that it had “violated community rules“.
She immediately promoted old posts by directing readers to other pages, where she continued her daily stream of raucous posts.
“I have created this little account,” he wrote. “Just in case something happens,” he said.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.