Taiwan actor Dai cast in Vicki Zhao's upcoming movie “No Other Love”. Photo: Beijing Time
An upcoming Chinese romance film directed by Zhao Wei, one of the country’s most popular actresses and directors, recently lost its leading actor amid an outcry by young Chinese nationalists who are nicknamed by many as “little pinks” (小粉红).
Leon Dai, a respected Taiwanese actor and director, was removed from the movie “No Other Love” which finished shooting last year, just weeks after he was accused by some local media of supporting Taiwanese independence. Although Dai issued a statement this June 30 claiming that he had never joined any political party and that he was not a separatist, furious Chinese nationalists said that the remarks failed to convince them.
By mid-July, the UNCLOS ruling on the South China Sea seemed to add fuel to young little pinks’ fury. They escalated protests from online to offline by rallying in front of KFC outlets to prevent diners from entering. The aggressive move that disturbs social order has finally propelled China’s government to step in.
While some foreign media refer to the group constituted mostly of youth born in the 1990s as ‘patriots’, they are called "little pinks" on the Chinese mainland, reflecting mixed feelings toward the group.
Chinese intellectuals use the term to show that the new generation of nationalists is in puberty, light-hearted, and superficial, with no real knowledge about politics and history.
“Little pinks wear the same shade of red, but not as dark as their ‘Red Guard’ pioneers,” a netizen thus explained. As known to all, Chairman Mao’s Red Guards actively devoted themselves to the notorious Cultural Revolution that had dragged the whole China into chaos.
The explanation makes sense, but the use of ‘pink’ color is just a coincidence.
The name first appeared on the message board of Jinjiang Literature City (www.jjwxc.net), one of the earliest and most influential websites for original novels. Boasting a high proportion of female users, the website used pink as its theme color. Around 2008, overseas students and young immigrants rose to prominence on the platform due to their solidarity in fighting against derogatory information about China, which are not uncommon for billboards like Jinjiang. The patriotic young Chinese had been vocal about their strong affections for their motherland and so were nicknamed the patriotic “little pinks”.
If "little pinks" phrase was first coined to depict true patriotism that inspires youth to stand out and fight made-up stories harboring evil designs, entering the articulate Weibo era, its definition was broadened to cover all patriotic or nationalistic youth. It was later also used to describe China’s younger generation that is degrading from patriots to nationalists. At the start of 2016, their organized efforts to bypass the country’s Great Firewall to bombard Facebook accounts of Taiwan’s newly elected president Tsai Ing-wen and other ‘separatists’ in their eyes astounded people across the Straits.
Tsai Ing-wen won the presidential election in Taiwan and brought her Democratic People’s Party (DPP) to power in January 2016. The DPP has been historically pro-Taiwanese independence, a stance Beijing has often denounced, saying it would “threaten the peace between the Taiwan Strait.” Her victory with flying colors had obviously ignited Chinese nationalists’ fury.
According to Baidu Tieba, a message board run by Chinese Internet giant Baidu, the young ‘patriots’ themselves claim that over 20 million young Internet users had joined the cultural communication efforts.
People in both Chinese mainland and Taiwan were shocked by the prowess of nationalistic “little pinks”.
China’s government held an ambiguous attitude toward the self-styled patriots at that time. Qianlong.com, the web portal of Beijing’s municipal government, wrote a complimentary news article titled “Give ‘little pinks’ thumbs up’ for their pure and patriotic emotions”.
“Those born in the 1990s have grown up with the development of the Internet, and although sometimes they are still treated as “kids”, they have become an influential group in the era of Internet. It is not only because they are independent, diversified and articulate but is due to their pure love for and firm stance to support their nation,” wrote the report by qianlong.com.
Although People’s Daily, the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece stayed silent on the issue, its website people.cn was found to have forwarded the article by qianlong. Unlike the seemingly supportive state-owned media, the public opinion in China was actually mixed. A netizen whose message was representative of “the other side of the coin” wrote, “Loyalty and hatred are all things ‘little pinks’ own.
They strongly believe that the Western world is trying to curb the rise of China, and that many Chinese academicians, human rights lawyers or other intellectuals are being financed by anti-China forces abroad and so are no good.”
Zhao Wei, Chinese actress and director Photo: Beijing Time
Although the movie’s Weibo account said it was done with Leon Dai, protests didn’t stop there. There are calls for boycotting Zhao Wei, investigating high-profile charity fund - One Foundation, and taking over of new media like Weibo by the state-owned media groups in order to bring order in the cyberspace.
Many online protestors believe that their voices had been stifled by the influential actress and the new media managed by her powerful friend (Jack Ma), because most of their critical posts about Zhao using the separatist actor had mysteriously disappeared. And One Foundation is suspected by many Internet users of being a fake charity organization for commercial or entertainment magnate in the Chinese mainland to launder money.
When conspiracy theories were whispered on streets and lanes, the removal of posts fuelled more suspicion. People’s Daily began to write reviews apparently aiming to calm the whole thing down. It alerted online protestors not to boycott compatriots in the name of resisting foreign invasion, and commented that “for loving your country, passion is needed and so is rationality.”
Although Party media’s intervention seemed to have frustrated the aggressive young patriots, it failed to soften their anger. When a netizen joked that Zhao Wei may have also plotted for the sun to rise at 5 am, his page was left with tons of curses and insulting comments.
Protests in front of KFC outlets in China's lower-tier cities. Photo: hallyunation.com
Online protests escalated in mid-July. Some lower-tier cities including Tangshan in north China’s Hebei province, Sihong in eastern province of Jiangsu and Chenzhou in south-central China’s Hunan province have all staged protests against fast food outlet KFC. In Dalian, northeast China’s Liaoning province, a young man wearing Nike got into a fight with someone who accused him of being a traitor. In cyberspace, videos of smashing one’s own IPhone became a hit.
"The protest against KFC is obviously irrational," the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the Party, wrote in an article. "Extreme nationalism does not reflect the mainstream attitude in Chinese society," the paper said.