Minitrue: Trolling Tsai Ing-wen Beyond the Great Firewall

The following instructions, issued to the media by government authorities, have been leaked and distributed online. The name of the issuing body has been omitted to protect the source.

The “Diba Expedition” has become complicated. Regional media must moderate coverage of the incident. Do not make it a recommended topic. Pay special attention to deleting negative netizen commentary which uses this as an opportunity to attack the state system or cross-Strait relations. At the same time, look out for and prevent the spread of “scaling the wall” and other harmful technical information. (January 22, 2016) [Chinese]

At least 4,000, mostly young Chinese Internet users organized on the Baidu Tieba forum “Diba” (帝吧, or “Emperor Bar”) jumped the this week, leaving tens of thousands of messages opposing Taiwanese independence on the pages of Taiwan’s new President-elect and several media companies. Tsai leads the Democratic Progressive Party, which has traditionally advocated formal independence from China, but she has pledged instead to maintain the peaceful status quo. China Real Time’s Marco Huang reports on the trolling “expedition”:

The effort was particularly noteworthy for its level of organization. Internet users leading the campaign divided participants into work groups and assigned them different tasks, such as collecting photos, making graphics (or “stickers”) and clicking “like” on others’ postings.

Organizers also urged participants to be “civilized” and “reasonable” in their postings. Some users appeared to oblige, posting photos of China’s gorgeous tourism spots and delicious food along with captions such as “Made in China.”

Others, however, crossed over into more combative territory. They posted messages such as “Fight with Taiwan Independence dogs,” “Your mainland father will fix you,” and “What a stupid (expletive) you are.”

One 21-year old organizer who declined to give her name said that participants were instructed to refrain from “liking” more-radical comments and those using offensive language. “We hope to leave them with a peaceful, friendly and generous ‘great-nation’ image,” she told China Real Time.

[…] Taiwan’s new ruling party, meanwhile, appeared to take the incident in stride. Asked for comment, the DPP’s Department of International Affairs quoted the party’s spokesman, Yang Jialiang, as saying: “Welcome to the free and democratic Taiwan; that is all.” [Source]

From Sidney Leng at South China Morning Post:

A trickle of critical comments began after her victory speech on Saturday and escalated into a wave beginning Wednesday night. By Thursday evening, more than 70,000 comments had been posted in less than 24 hours.

One comment was accompanied by a illustration of a police officer holding a brick with a note that read: “If you dare say Taiwan independence, I will come out and enforce the law.”

Others referred to Tsai as a “provincial governor”.

[…] The state-run Global Times said on Tuesday the ongoing exchange of opinions reflected the “mushrooming” culture on the mainland, while Taiwan’s was in decline.

But the relatively liberal Beijing News expressed wariness over the campaign. “Before, we called these commentators paid posters, now we call them ‘patriotic soldiers’,” said a commentary published on official the News official WeChat account. [Source]

The People’s Daily reported that the Diba Expedition was a polite dialogue between well-meaning mainlanders and their benighted Taiwanese brethren:

After all, today’s youth in Taiwan have essentially been brainwashed by stubborn political struggles, and believe that the mainland is poor and weak; moreover, their sense of identity has been ripped to shreds by the fractiousness of Taiwanese society. Many of them have no idea what their identity is…

But to refrain from arguing with the Taiwan independence proponents, and to choose instead a reasoned exchange with netizens across the Strait—for this, we must thank the many unnamed “Diba” netizens who organized yesterday’s “exchange.” Early on, they posted information on major mainland websites, and especially pushed for everyone to talk to Taiwan netizens on Facebook. They aren’t against Taiwan, just against Taiwan independence. They didn’t go to start a shouting match, just to let everyone know the real China, to know why mainlanders feel so strongly about Taiwan. [Chinese]

Diba was originally created to discuss Chinese soccer player Li Yi, a source of  early-2000s Internet memes. The “” (小粉红)—high school students at the oldest who lack the understanding to be fully-fledged “red” patriots—usually gather on certain online forums for a good time, but are occasionally galvanized by social and political issues, and express their “patriotic feelings.” The “expedition” over the Great Firewall to Facebook employed a Baidu Tieba tactic of “blowing up the board” (爆吧), in which users attack a rival forum with a massive number of posts.

The invasion was not the first mark that patriotic mainland social media has left on the election and its aftermath. On polling day, video circulated of a 16-year-old Taiwanese singer, Chou Tzu-yu of K-pop group Twice, grimly apologizing for holding the island’s Republic of China flag on South Korean TV. “There is only one China,” she told the camera, bowing deeply. “I am proud to be a Chinese person.” The clip attracted comparisons with Islamic State propaganda videos. Anger over the flag footage had been stirred up by Taiwan-born, China-based singer Huang An, leading to the cancellation of lucrative deals with Chinese television and electronics manufacturer Huawei. Twice’s management company JYP Entertainment is widely suspected to have coerced Chou into confessing, though the firm insists that the singer had made the decision together with her parents.

Huang An’s Sina Weibo account—whose avatar is a photo of Huang holding a sign saying “I oppose Taiwan independence, not Taiwan”—has since been wiped clean. Searches for both Chou Tzu-yu (周子瑜) and Huang An (黄安) were blocked as of Saturday but unblocked by Tuesday, while searches for calls to boycott JYP (抵制JYP) still return no results.

While the economy rather than cross-Strait relations was the focus of Tsai’s campaign and the priority of most voters, the incident appears have refocused many, particularly younger voters at the last minute, possibly boosting turnout among DPP supporters. The Wall Street Journal’s Eva Dou and Jenny W. Hsu reported official reactions from both sides of the Strait:

Ms. Chou’s video sparked such a firestorm that Tsai Ing-wen, the winner of the presidential election, addressed it in her first press conference Saturday night.

“An entertainer who is working in South Korea, a 16-year-old girl, was oppressed for holding the flag,” she said. “This incident has infuriated the Taiwan people. The incident will forever serve as a reminder that as president, my most important duty is to unify this country, to strengthen this country.”

[…] Lee Shu-Chuan, the secretary-general of the Kuomintang, or KMT, didn’t provide an explanation for his party’s election rout during a press conference at campaign headquarters Saturday night; he said the party would issue a report in coming weeks. Asked by reporters if Ms. Chou’s video was a factor, he said “yes.” [The University of NOttingham’s Jonathan Sullivan told The New York Times that “it’s a fig leaf, but the KMT is going to be desperate for something to save face.”]

KMT leaders had also given their public support to Ms. Chou, although it didn’t appear to help them at the ballot box. Eric Chu, the KMT presidential candidate, denounced the video, and President Ma said, “I want to tell Ms. Chou, you have no need to apologize.”

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office also issued a statement Saturday to warn against using the incident to fan discord. “Regarding some Taiwan political forces using some individual incidents between the people on both sides of the strait to provoke people’s feelings, the compatriots on both sides of the strait must be very careful,” the TAO said in its statement. [Source]

At Newsweek Japan, cartoonist Rebel Pepper summed up the dual Internet scandals and their effect on both outgoing President Ma Ying-jeou and on his successor:

As with the Facebook invasion, Global Times declared the episode a “total victory.” But CCTV anchor Bai Yansong scolded Chinese netizens to do a little more research before jumping on people like Chou for a perceived slight, pointing out that the flag actually has pro-unification connotations. “At many of the events held by the DPP and the Taiwan independence [movement], they’re definitely not going to wave the blue sky white sun flag,” he said with exasperation. “So you should think about whether your opposition is counterproductive.” Jun Mai at South China Morning Post reported that Chou had other defenders in state media:

“Chou’s waving of the flag is an act of recognising the ‘Republic of China’,” said an article published on Sunday by Xiakedao on the social media account of the People’s Daily’s overseas edition.

“The expression of the Republic of China contains the ‘one China’ principle. ‘One China with respective interpretations’ is an understood concept across the strait.”

[…] “Mainland internet users went from anti-independence to anti-Taiwan. Some even went as far as to call for unification through force,” said the People’s Daily article. “Taiwanese internet users, on the other hand, have emphasised Taiwan’s self-determined nature and opposed the ‘hegemonic mindset’.

“We should think about how to let the Taiwanese youth get to know the truth and the history. Labelling them as ‘Taiwan separatists’ is the most unwise thing to do.”

[…] On the girl group’s official website, run by JYP Entertainment, Chou’s birthplace has been changed from “Taiwan” to “Taiwan, China”. [Source]

At Global Times, Zhang Yiqian and Zhang Yu rounded up other online reactions:

Zhou Xiaoping, a popular nationalist blogger, wrote a “public letter” to Taiwan on his Weibo after the election. “In the past, the Chinese mainland was relatively poor compared with the wealth of Taiwan. But now, the Chinese mainland is much richer, while the economy of Taiwan has remained stagnant for over a decade … if you [Taiwan] continue to be obstinate, you will be the one to lose the opportunity to future development,” he wrote.

Some even suggested enforcing an economic embargo on the region if the new Taiwan leadership challenges the one-China policy. Sima Nan, a leftist scholar, wrote a commentary after Tsai’s victory, arguing that China should study how to turn its economic advantage into a political advantage over Taiwan. In a patronizing article, he described the over $100 billion trade surplus that Taiwan enjoyed over the mainland each year as “a favor” that the mainland does to Taiwan, and said Taiwan is not returning the favor or showing any sense of gratitude. “As [the DPP] steps into power, and refuses to agree to the one-China policy, is it still necessary for us to continue this support?” he said in the article.

[…] After the recent election, Han Xin, an exchange student from the mainland studying journalism at Taiwan University, wrote a column for guancha.cn in which he argued that people like him have become disappointed in Taiwan’s politics after seeing how the elections were carried out.

One classmate told him that elections have become a finger-pointing war between the parties. “The point of the election was not to bring forward policies on improving Taiwan’s society, but to win over the public’s votes,” he wrote.

Another classmate told Han that the public in Taiwan doesn’t care much about issues during elections and focuses on candidates’ morals and values. For example, in all the debates, the issue of nuclear power was never really discussed fully, but people simply voted for the individual they prefer, Han wrote. [Source]

Tsai and the DPP didn’t take all the heat, Didi Kirsten Tatlow reported at The New York Times:

Many commenters lashed out at the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, for losing the election. China’s ruling party prefers the Kuomintang to Ms. Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party because the latter is supported by many Taiwanese who favor independence. China has said it might retake Taiwan by force if the island embarks on formal steps toward independence.

[…] “The Kuomintang really are a bunch of losers. The Democratic Progressive Party dares to shout Taiwan independence, why don’t you shout unification?! Wavering to left and right, like grass blowing around on the top of a wall! You really need to think about things!!!!” wrote one person in response to an article about the party’s defeat on Sina.com, China’s biggest news portal. The comment garnered more than 1,200 approvals.

The article originally appeared on www.guancha.cn, or The Observer, an online news and comments aggregator.

“This isn’t the Kuomintang, this is Chiang Kai-shek’s party,” said 40Zhenggan, garnering more than 130 approvals and referring to the former party leader who died in Taiwan in 1975.

“A party that is doomed to disappear, a party that is without any clear political identity,” 40Zhenggan wrote. “The Democratic Progressive Party’s identity is extremely clear, it’s Taiwan independence! And the Kuomintang is afraid to react, afraid to shout unification; it muddles along, it shuts its ears to the bell,” or warning signal. [Source]

The diagnosis that the KMT had failed to advocate unification loudly enough is strongly at odds with analyses elsewhere. Others place greater emphasis economic mismanagement, internal power struggles, and the party’s failure to connect with the mood of younger voters. Stronger calls for unification are unlikely to win them back:

After its crushing defeat in Saturday’s election, the Kuomintang must nurture young leaders and embrace its role as the opposition if it is to regain power in four years’ time, party members and analysts said.

The election was the “KMT’s worst defeat since 1949”, according to KMT central committee member Darby Liu. Others were more upbeat, saying the KMT still had a strong base to build from.

[…] However, in the long run, the rise of a younger generation with a stronger Taiwan-based identity may continue to trouble the KMT, which translates literally as “Chinese Nationalist Party”.

“The idea that the KMT is an invading regime has [grown] in the mind of young people since the change of history textbooks in 2000 [when the DPP was in power],” said Liu. “The legitimacy of the Republic of China and the KMT has been undermined.” [Source]

真Since directives are sometimes communicated orally to journalists and editors, who then leak them online, the wording published here may not be exact. The date given may indicate when the directive was leaked, rather than when it was issued. CDT does its utmost to verify dates and wording, but also takes precautions to protect the source.