Tea Leaf Nation
Let the Cross-Strait Internet Trolling Commence
Days after Tsai Ing-Wen's election as Taiwan’s president, mainlanders flooded her Facebook page to demand unification.
On Jan. 16, Tsai Ing-wen’s successful presidential bid has positioned her to become the first-ever female leader of the self-governing island of Taiwan. Her election, though long expected given the unpopularity of the current, pro-China ruling party, has still seemed to rankle in mainland China, particularly the online spaces where grassroots nationalism flourishes. Taiwan’s current president Ma Ying-Jeou had led the island, which mainland China views as a Chinese province destined for an inevitable future return to mainland governance, to strengthen its ties with Beijing; Tsai’s election means that policy may soon change. Now some nationalist Chinese netizens have launched a grassroots campaign to make sure Tsai knows how they feel about her platform.
In the wake of Tsai’s election, members of Diba, a forum with more than 20 million followers on China’s largest search engine Baidu, called upon Chinese web users to flood prominent Taiwan-related Facebook pages with anti-Taiwan independence comments. This would “show the patriotism of the Chinese youth,” the group wrote on its Weibo page, adding, “the main battlefield of the Internet belongs to the youth.” Some netizens dubbed the surge onto Facebook — a popular social network in Taiwan that’s only accessible in the mainland using a so-called virtual private network to evade censors — a “holy war” against what they perceive as forces advocating Taiwan’s independence, which China sees as anthithetical to its inviolable sovereignty. The call quickly gained traction online. By the evening of Jan. 20, “Diba fb expedition” — an abbreviated description of the campaign — became a top trending search on Weibo.
The group’s call seems to have had the desired effect. On Jan. 20 around 7 p.m. Beijing time, Tsai’s public Facebook page began filling up with comments, many written in the simplified Chinese script used on the mainland rather than the traditional characters typical of Taiwan. Twelve hours into the campaign, Tsai’s latest Facebook post had drawn nearly 40,000 posts.
“Huge congratulations to Tsai Ing-wen,” one commenter wrote, “on becoming secretary and governor of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee People’s Government of Taiwan Province.” Another wrote: “For so many years, the Taiwanese people have slandered the mainland, and its celebrities have made every effort to make the Mainland look bad in their dirty ways,” a reference to celebrities such as singer A-Mei, who was banned from China for several years after performing the Taiwanese national anthem in 2000. “Now,” continued the user, “mainlanders view the Taiwanese people as clowns.” The user may have wished to employ harsher language, but the campaign’s organizers put forth a set of rules intended to protect the campaign’s image, prohibiting the use of curse words and cautioning against posting too many comments for fear of suspension.
Most of the comments are reposts of others, and few on Tsai’s Facebook page are original. Propaganda slogans, copied verbatim, were easy to find. There was former mainland president Hu Jintao’s “Eight Honors and Eight Disgraces,” which includes the phrase “loving the Mother Country is honorable, harming the Mother Country is disgraceful,” and the lyrics of Chinese propaganda songs, such as Ode to the Motherland.
This isn’t the first time that large numbers of web users apparently from mainland China have dodged mainland censors to express themselves on Tsai’s Facebook page. In mid-November 2015, thousands of users left more than 70,000 comments, largely in simplified Chinese, on her page insisting upon unification with the mainland.
Not all of them are jumping the so-called Great Firewall of Censorship. Some of the Facebook warrior-commenters are young Chinese students studying in foreign countries, including but not limited to the United States, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Japan. But the majority seem to only have registered their Facebook accounts a few days ago.
Many Weibo users spent the night of Jan. 20 reveling in what they seemed to view as a Facebook victory. “Chinese people often curse at one another,” one user wrote, “but this time seeing us uniting together against the outside makes me believe that the motherland is getting better and better.” The actions of the young Chinese Facebook commenters signal the Chinese government’s success in inculcating its version of Taiwan’s historical narrative into mainland youth. Perhaps none said it better than a Weibo user named Mohuan, herself perhaps also a Facebook crusader: “I would rather stay inside the motherland’s Great Firewall my entire life; for the more I learn about foreign countries, the more I love my own country.”