For many years, China have used paid contributors on internet forums to shape commentary in favour of China, and to belittle the west (China’s government hires people to distort web conversations).
These contributors are known in Chinese as wumao, and often create elaborate fraudulent identities. Now they have taken it a step further, by creating fictitious expat websites, and taking over established ones.
Controlling expat media is nothing new to China. They did it to Mark Kitto with his highly successful expat magazines (You’ll never be Chinese” by Mark Kitto), a magazine I used to write for. When the Chinese management forcibly seized it from him, they told me to write less favourably about the west, and more favourably about China. I refused, and moved on.
It was similar when I worked for eChinacities. My final story was edited to delete references to the fact that most of China’s “historical sites” are reconstructions, the originals having been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. My editor was extremely apologetic, explaining this was due to pressure from the Chinese censors, and that I should promote China more. I again declined, preferring to write truth than propaganda.
Since then, I have continued to contribute to the eChinacities Answers forum. While the eChinacities feature stories may be biased, the website itself is an invaluable source of information to those living in and visiting China. The forum also allowed expats to discuss problems they encounter in China, and to assist each other in dealing with these problems, and I was happy to assist with that as well.
More recently, however, the forums section has become increasingly saturated with the aforementioned wumaos. Many are openly declaring that they are wumaos that were previously banned from the site by simple virtue of the fact that they were wumaos. They are increasingly inciting hate against westerners, and the superiority of the Chinese over all other races on earth.
In the past, this has been the reason for them being banned from the site. However, now it is allowed, even though a clear breach of the terms and conditions of the site. What is not allowed is for any westerner to criticise the wumaos, or to complain about personal attacks from the wumaos. The new strategy is to delete comments criticising the wumaos, but to allow comments making personal attacks against the western contributors.
There is another class of wumaos, that are becoming increasingly active on expat forums. These are the wumaos that try to entrap expats. Not all are Chinese – there are even westerners that will entrap other expats. They will pretend to be a recruiter, or an an expat that has been in conflict in China and overcome it. While primarily targetting illegal teachers, they also record the names of anyone that complains about China, and China is not adverse to declaring a legal worker illegal if a complaint is made about a Chinese employer. Such expats are sought out as “troublemakers.”
An example of the deception these people use is a wumao on eChinacities calling himself icnif, who was previously banned, but now allowed to return. He constantly promotes himself as an illegal (see one of icnif’s posts here).in China, and offers himself as proof that the Chinese authorities will protect illegal teachers. His advice to illegal teachers is to report the schools that are cheating them to the authorities. This is entrapment, as the authorities will immediately arrest the illegal teacher. However, many in China for the first time are vulnerable and desperate, and fall for such trickery
Another is a contributor on eChinacities called Hulk, who was also banned, but allowed to return after a month. He is probably not Chinese, but appears to have had a lot of trouble with Chinese authorities in the past. He claims to have been an illegal teacher, and now an illegal American recruiter. He is allowed to recruit illegal teachers on the forum, even though others were rightfully banned for doing the same thing in the past. This is again entrapment. As soon as you give your details to Hulk, expect a visit from the immigration authorities. Foreigners are not allowed to work freelance and unregistered in China, as Hulk claims to do. Hulk’s troubles with Chinese authorities ended at the same time as he claimed to become a recruiter (see one of Hulk’s posts here).
Editor’s Note: One day after this article was published on China Daily Mail, Hulk claimed that he had suddenly packed up and returned to the USA, and ceased recruiting immediately (see Hulk’s farewell post here). A week later, he resumed his activities, and any attempts to expose him met with the warning being deleted, and the person making the warning be threatened with a ban from the site.
Editor’s Note: By September 2013, eChinacities Answer forum had become almost completely pro-China and anti-western, deleting any pro-western comments and banning long-term western posters on a daily basis. Xenophobic hysteria against the west became the norm on the site.
This is not the only website that this has happened to. Many other local websites operating in China also report that they are under increasing pressure to promote anti-western, pro-China propaganda on their sites, with the threat of being closed down if they refuse to comply with the Chinese directive. There is also pressure from the authorities to allow the entrapment. The general consensus amongst expats is that the CCP is calling the shots on this strategy, not the owners of the sites. China Daily Mail has also received such threats, but ignored them.
In some cases, the Chinese go to great measures to create entirely fictional identities to deceive expats. Take the case of ZSRenn website, claiming to be run by a ninth generation Australian expat in Zhongshan called Len Philp. After a few emails with Mr Philp, it is clear he is not Australian, but has tried to establish a complete fake identity to prove he is. The Facebook page and other “proof” of identity are clearly fake, but this seems of little concern to him.
All “news” items on the ZSRenn website have one source, and one source only – Chinese state media. The website itself is written largely in Chinese, and Mr Philp uses his self-perceived “credibility” as an expat to attack anything western, and to promote the glory of China.
That is not to say that the website does not have many positive points. Like eChinacities, it is an invaluable source of information about local events, restaurants and entertainment for expats living in China, and as such, I would recommend both sites to expats for these purposes.
However, one should be wary of the opinions expressed ,and advice offered, on such websites. Things aren’t always what they seem, especially in China.
Also Read: China’s new visa laws target expats
- China’s new visa laws target expats (chinadailymail.com)
- China: New Visa Law and Regulation Impacts Expats and Foreign Workers (relonavigator.wordpress.com)
- The end of the expat dream? Foreigners facing increasingly competitive Chinese job market (gcshanghai.wordpress.com)
- China: the changing expat market (chinaherald.net)
- Expats Information (australianexpat.wordpress.com)
- Australia at risk of squandering expat expertise as brain drain hits reverse (abc.net.au)
- Expat “Identity”: Symptom of Western Arrogance (readersupportednews.org)
- China Expats and John Service (powertransition.wordpress.com)
- Toujuwang – An Expat’s Attempt to Improve Apartment Hunting in China (learnchinesebusiness.com)
- Musings of a Fake Tai-tai (craftymemories.wordpress.com)