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Low-level red, high-level black

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dījí hóng gāojí hēi 低级红高级黑

After the "gratitude education" debacle in Wuhan, YouTuber Da Kang asks, "Is it idiots in the system...
...or a game of 'low-level red, high-level black'?" (Source: 大康战情社)

The faux-patriotic butt of one's own joke; a show of patriotism that is hollow, self-serving, and unwittingly destructive. A compound of two phrases that emerged from internet culture and that have been co-opted by the authorities.

The term "high-level black" first appeared in netizen parlance in the mid-2010s to describe the lack of self-awareness of one's own idiotic or embarrassing behavior, and as a label for backhanded compliments. State media picked up the phrase as early as 2014.

"Low-level red" came into common parlance in November 2018, when a race marshal at the Suzhou Marathon stepped into the road to hand a Chinese flag to runner He Yinli near the finish line—He lost her slim lead as Ayantu Abera Demisse pulled ahead to take first place. This phrase, too, came into official usage soon after, appearing in a Central Committee document on February 28, 2019. Guan Hai and Wei Lu documented the premiere of the set phrase for China Media Project:

The “Central Committee Opinions on Strengthening the Party’s Political Construction” released on February 28 reads, actually includes this pair of phrases [sic], marking their debut in central-level Party documents (as opposed to news media alone). The document said: “[We] must with correct understanding and correct actions resolutely enact the ‘Two Protections,’ firmly preventing and correcting all erroneous statements that diverge from the ‘Two Protections,’ and [we] must not allow any form of ‘low-level red’ (低级红) or ‘high-level black’ (高级黑’), permitting no form of two-faced outer devotion and internal opposition (阳奉阴违做两面人) toward the Party’s Central Committee, any double-dealing or ‘false reverence’ (伪忠诚).” [Source]

In turn, "low-level red, high-level black" made its way back to netizens during the novel coronavirus epidemic, who deployed it against "gratitude education" and images of chengguan buying food from street vendors.

See also patriotraitor.