Local Chinese Authorities Use Internet Slang ‘Ziganwu’ in Their Propaganda Recruitment

Portraits of Ziganwu as red guards have been circulated widely online.

Ziganwu (自干五), a new generation Red Guards on China's Internet. Image Source: botanwang.com

In China, ziganwu refers to self-motivated Internet commenters who unconditionally defend the government. Unlike the 50 Cent Party (wumao dang) who are paid by authorities to praise the Chinese Communist Party and guide public sentiment, ziganwu are volunteers and not officially affiliated with the government.

The nickname, which literally means 50 Cent Party commenters who bring their own food, appears to have made its way into the government's official vocabulary for the first time.

A provincial education document titled “The Notice of Recommendation of Core Internet Commenters and Ziganwu”, issued mid-May by the Sichuan education office, indirectly confirms the term's inclusion in official language. Netizens recently discovered the document on the websites of some provincial colleges, including Mianyang Normal University, Sichuan Medical University and Aba Teachers University.

There are a few types of pro-government Internet commenters in China, though they all undertake similar propaganda work. In addition to the 50 Cent Party and the newly government-recognized ziganwu, “online youth civilization volunteers” seek to spread positive energy and “purify” the internet. Leaked emails showed that the China Communist Youth League, one of the most significant Chinese Communist Party organizations under the single party regime, has set out to recruit an estimated 18 million of these commenters from colleges throughout the country since last year.

A screenshot shows the official notice of recruiting ziganwu. Image source: Weibo

The Sichuan document lists recruitment criteria for the ziganwu and the “core Internet commenters” composed of both teachers and students from the colleges. It demands that each public college recommend 50 Internet commenters from among students. For private and vocational colleges, the numbers are 20 and 10, respectively, with 70 percent being teachers and 30 percent students. Eighty-one provincial colleges are estimated to have 3,450 core commenters.

Soon after it went viral on social media, authorities pulled the notice from college websites on June 7.

Below is a translation of the requirements and responsibilities of Internet commenters listed in the document:

推荐条件:

1.政治立场可靠,模范遵守宪法和法律,拥护中国共产党的领导和中国特色社会主义道路。

2.政策水平较高、业务工作能力较强、有较好文字能力,专业成就和学业成绩较突出,具有一定学术影响力和社会知名度。

3.作风正、人品好,自愿承诺不利用网评员身份为个人或有关机构谋求商业利益和其他不正当利益。

4.具有网络传播技能,熟悉网络传播特点,能够经常撰写文章、接受采访,并对网上舆论工作提出建议和意见。

工作方式:

1.骨干网评员、骨干“自干五”以撰写评论文章、接受访谈等方式,经常性开展舆论引导工作。

2.鼓励骨干网评员、骨干“自干五”开设微博、微信等账号,做好个人作品的及时转发工作。

3.骨干网评员、骨干“自干五”协助省教育厅开展组织好网上舆论引导工作。省教育厅将利用可行的行政手段、技术手段和市场力量,加大对知名专家、言论专栏的推广力度。

Recommendation requirements:

1. Having a reliable political stance, complying with the constitution and laws and supporting the lead of China’s Communist Party and the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

2. Having a high level of [making or using] policy, a strong ability for professional work, and having a good writing ability, academic achievement and study performance.

3. Having the integrity of style and good personal character, and commitment not to use the Internet commenter role to seek business or improper profit for an individual or organization.

4. Having the skill and being familiar with the traits of Internet communication, writing articles and frequently conducting interviews and offering advice and opinions for the work of online public sentiment.

Working methods:

1. Core Internet commenters and ziganwu should frequently guide the public sentiment by writing commentary, conducting interviews and so on.

2. Core Internet commenters and ziganwu are encouraged to register accounts on Weibo, WeChat and other platforms, and are responsible for timely reposting of personal work (to guide the public).

3. Core Internet commenters and ziganwu should assist the provincial education office to develop and organize the work of guiding the public. The provincial education office is going to utilize practical measures of administration, techniques and market power to promote well-known experts and opinion columns.

Novelist Xia Shang pointed out on Chinese Twitter-like Weibo the harm that Internet commenters could do to society by comparing them with Red Guards, a savage group of youngsters in Mao Zedong's disastrously social movement in the 1960s:

高校网络文明志愿者,即网评员,是后文革新一代红卫兵,老红卫兵用器械和拳头打砸抢,破坏社会秩序,损毁民众私产,乃至剥夺公民生命。新一代网络红卫兵用污言秽语围攻普世价值,混淆视听,充当意识形态帮凶。老红卫兵领导着新红卫兵,将缺乏判断力的莘莘学子培养成网络暴徒。文革从未走远,就在当下。

Internet civilization volunteers in colleges, as known as Internet commenters, are the new generation of Red Guards born in the post-Cultural Revolution era. The older generation of Red Guards used weapons and fists to batter and loot, to break the social order, to ruin people’s private fortune and even to deprive citizens of their lives. The new generation of online Red Guards use filthy words to besiege and attack the universal values in order to mislead the public, and in this way they work as accomplices of ideology. The new generation of Red Guards are led by older ones who bring up students to be Internet mobsters. The Cultural Revolution never passed away; it lives on currently.

Medical attorney Liu Ye pleaded for college students not to work as Internet commenters:

作为曾经的大学教师,奉劝大学生网评员们,在毕业求职简历中不要填写“曾任网评员”或“优秀网评员”经历。这是见不得光彩的经历,将使你的求职增难,人生蒙羞。

I had worked as a college teacher, so I want to exhort college students who work as Internet commenters not to add experience as “having had worked as Internet commenter” or “excellent online commenters” to your resumes. This kind of shameful experience will make your job hunting more difficult and humiliate you all your life.

The official stance on the commenter role's value is quite the opposite. Zhao Shibing, a teacher of Harbin Normal University, claimed in state newspaper Guang Ming Daily last November that “to make the China’s online space brighter, we need more ziganwu to guide people to be builders of good morality and movers of social civilization progress.”

The Communist Youth League also defended ziganwu on its official Weibo account:

值得庆幸的是,在这个物欲横流的时代,还有这样一帮人,不计较个人得失,自带干粮,拿键盘做武器,用思想去搏杀,在看不见硝烟的网络战场上与网络负面力量艰难地抗衡,顽强地守卫属于我们共同拥有的网络家园,他们是“自干五”,也是网络文明志愿者。

Fortunately in this materialistic era, there is still a group of people who do not consider their interests, who bring food themselves, take up keyboards as weapons, use thought to resolutely fight through the smoke of this Internet war with positivity, and fearlessly defend the online homeland that we share. They are ziganwu, and also are online civilization volunteers.

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