In China, ziganwu refers to self-motivated Internet commenters who unconditionally defend the government. Unlike the 50 Cent Party (wumao dang) who are paid by authorities to praise the Chinese Communist Party and guide public sentiment, ziganwu are volunteers and not officially affiliated with the government.
The nickname, which literally means 50 Cent Party commenters who bring their own food, appears to have made its way into the government's official vocabulary for the first time.
A provincial education document titled “The Notice of Recommendation of Core Internet Commenters and Ziganwu”, issued mid-May by the Sichuan education office, indirectly confirms the term's inclusion in official language. Netizens recently discovered the document on the websites of some provincial colleges, including Mianyang Normal University, Sichuan Medical University and Aba Teachers University.
There are a few types of pro-government Internet commenters in China, though they all undertake similar propaganda work. In addition to the 50 Cent Party and the newly government-recognized ziganwu, “online youth civilization volunteers” seek to spread positive energy and “purify” the internet. Leaked emails showed that the China Communist Youth League, one of the most significant Chinese Communist Party organizations under the single party regime, has set out to recruit an estimated 18 million of these commenters from colleges throughout the country since last year.
The Sichuan document lists recruitment criteria for the ziganwu and the “core Internet commenters” composed of both teachers and students from the colleges. It demands that each public college recommends 50 Internet commenters from among students. For private and vocational colleges, the numbers are 20 and 10, respectively, with 70 percent being teachers and 30 percent students. Eighty-one provincial colleges are estimated to have 3,450 core commenters.
Soon after it went viral on social media, authorities pulled the notice from college websites on June 7.
Below is a translation of the requirements and responsibilities of Internet commenters listed in the document:
1. Having a reliable political stance, complying with the constitution and laws and supporting the lead of China’s Communist Party and the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
2. Having a high level of [making or using] policy, a strong ability for professional work, and having a good writing ability, academic achievement and study performance.
3. Having the integrity of style and good personal character, and commitment not to use the Internet commenter role to seek business or improper profit for an individual or organization.
4. Having the skill and being familiar with the traits of Internet communication, writing articles and frequently conducting interviews and offering advice and opinions for the work of online public sentiment.
1. Core Internet commenters and ziganwu should frequently guide the public sentiment by writing commentary, conducting interviews and so on.
2. Core Internet commenters and ziganwu are encouraged to register accounts on Weibo, WeChat and other platforms, and are responsible for timely reposting of personal work (to guide the public).
3. Core Internet commenters and ziganwu should assist the provincial education office to develop and organize the work of guiding the public. The provincial education office is going to utilize practical measures of administration, techniques and market power to promote well-known experts and opinion columns.
Novelist Xia Shang pointed out on Chinese Twitter-like Weibo the harm that Internet commenters could do to society by comparing them with Red Guards, a savage group of youngsters in Mao Zedong's disastrously social movement in the 1960s:
Internet civilization volunteers in colleges, as known as Internet commenters, are the new generation of Red Guards born in the post-Cultural Revolution era. The older generation of Red Guards used weapons and fists to batter and loot, to break the social order, to ruin people’s private fortune and even to deprive citizens of their lives. The new generation of online Red Guards use filthy words to besiege and attack the universal values in order to mislead the public, and in this way they work as accomplices of ideology. The new generation of Red Guards are led by older ones who bring up students to be Internet mobsters. The Cultural Revolution never passed away; it lives on currently.
Medical attorney Liu Ye pleaded for college students not to work as Internet commenters:
I had worked as a college teacher, so I want to exhort college students who work as Internet commenters not to add experience as “having had worked as Internet commenter” or “excellent online commenters” to your resumes. This kind of shameful experience will make your job hunting more difficult and humiliate you all your life.
The official stance on the commenter role's value is quite the opposite. Zhao Shibing, a teacher of Harbin Normal University, claimed in state newspaper Guang Ming Daily last November that “to make the China’s online space brighter, we need more ziganwu to guide people to be builders of good morality and movers of social civilization progress.”
The Communist Youth League also defended ziganwu on its official Weibo account:
Fortunately in this materialistic era, there is still a group of people who do not consider their interests, who bring food themselves, take up keyboards as weapons, use thought to resolutely fight through the smoke of this Internet war with positivity, and fearlessly defend the online homeland that we share. They are ziganwu, and also are online civilization volunteers.