After Tsai Ing-wen won Taiwan’s presidential election by a landslide in January, thousands of nationalistic Chinese web users organized a campaign to scale the infamous Great Firewall, and flood Tsai’s Facebook page with tens of thousands of patriotic images and criticisms of Taiwan’s independence movement. These wall-scaling youth—known as “little pinks” (xiǎo fěnghóng 小粉红)—have struck several times since: in June, they lashed out at French cosmetics company Lancôme for sponsoring the concert of a Hong Kong Canto-pop star who was arrested for participation in the 2014 Occupy Central protests; flocked to Lady Gaga’s Instagram after the American pop star met with the Dalai Lama; and this month during the Rio Olympics, they attacked the social media accounts of Australian swimmer Mack Horton after he criticized his Chinese counterpart. At Tea Leaf Nation, Lotus Ruan briefly describes the attack on Horton before outlining the rise of the “little pinks” and their place in a new wave of online nationalism:
[…] While less known to Westerners than the so-called 50 cent party, a much-reviled online group that praises the ruling Communist Party (whose members may be paid, at least indirectly, for their support), the Little Pink group is gaining momentum in China’s online spaces. While many 50-centers may actually be government workers, and skew male, Little Pink members are known to be predominately young women, both in China and abroad, who genuinely believe that they have a sense of duty to guard their country against unwelcome opinions or criticism.
The group’s backstory is surprisingly genteel. “The term ‘Little Pink’ probably originated from Jin Jiang Literary City (Jinjiang Wenxue Cheng),” an online Chinese forum where users share original writings, according to Gu Chetan, a former forum user who refers to himself as “a veteran netizen,” explained in a Weibo post. Founded in 2003, Jin Jiang Literary City has a simple web design with large blocks of pink background color. With 16 million registered users, 93 per cent of whom are female, it claims to be “the most influential female-led literature website in mainland China.” From early in the forum’s existence, discussion was often heated, as those “who have similar views would usually form a group and argue with others.” According to Gu, in 2006, forum administrators opened a hidden section for users to discuss politics. The temperature began to rise further.
[…O]nly in 2016 did Little Pink’s roving members start to bombard overseas social media en masse. […] [Source]
The Economist has also profiled the “little pinks” and their rise, focusing on several of their recent campaigns and differentiating the intensity of their nationalism from their more constrained pro-government peers:
A two-week tussle catapulted the clan to mainstream attention in July. Young people lashed out at a Chinese film director for casting a Taiwanese actor in the lead role of “No Other Love”, a film due to be released next year. They accused Leon Dai, the actor concerned, of supporting Taiwanese independence because he appeared to back protests against a free-trade deal with China two years ago. The director ended up cutting Mr Dai out of the film, despite having already completed shooting. After this victory, media outlets and scholars began analysing the phenomenon.
Little-pink outbursts have been getting more frequent. In January, when Tsai Ing-wen, a Taiwanese politician who leans toward independence, was elected president, Chinese netizens flooded her Facebook page with negative comments and pictures. In June they called for a boycott of Lancôme, a French cosmetic company, for hiring Denise Ho, a Hong Kong singer suspected of supporting independence for the former British territory. Lancôme dropped her. Next, they swarmed Lady Gaga’s Instagram page after the American pop star met the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, condemned as a separatist by the Chinese government.
[…] The pink gang’s attitude is different from the broader nationalism in Chinese society. The vast majority of Chinese people would oppose Taiwanese or Hong Kong independence. But only a minority fly into a cyber-rage at the slightest provocation. Many people frown on little-pink actions as extreme, but they have won influential backers. Seizing on the more conventional association of the colour pink, the Communist Youth League praised the online mobs as female nationalists. It declared on its official microblog that they are “our daughters, our sisters, girls we had crushes on”. Many young women started declaring themselves “little pink” as a badge of honour. “We couple strength with gentleness, and love our country wisely,” one self-declared member wrote on the Youth League microblog. [Source]
The Communist Youth League’s praise for the pinks comes as Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has served to politically marginalize influential Youth League alumni, who make up a powerful political clique known as the tuanpai or “league faction” (former president Hu Jintao is a prominent tuanpai, and his former top aide was recently sentenced to life in prison on corruption charges). Earlier this month, Global Voice’s Oiwan Lam reported on how Xi’s planned reforms for the Communist Youth League focus on turning the organization into a force to steer online public opinion among young Chinese:
The reform plan, outlined by the Communist Party of China (CPC) on August 2, is based on an internet-focused strategy to turn the bureaucratic organization into an online campaign movement that “reinforces youth belief in the CPC and pumps vigor into the cause of national rejuvenation.”
[…] The reform comes after the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection launched a damning corruption investigation into the league and published a statement earlier this year. It criticized the league for its undesirable work methods, including “formalism, unnecessary bureaucracy, aristocracy [or nepotism] and a focus on entertainment”.
[…] The transformation of the League from a brick and mortar bureaucracy into an online campaigning organization did not happen overnight. In 2015, leaked emails revealed that the League was trying to recruit 20% of its members into online ‘youth civilization volunteers‘ to spread positive energy and “purify” the internet. Under the reform plan, the League will continue to strengthen its “internet engineering” and turn the organization into “internet plus Communist Youth League”. The term “internet plus” is a policy buzzword in China these days. […] [Source]