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  • James Farquharson

War of words – Chinese Wolf Warriors Misfire in Taiwan



Cover image: The logo of the “Little Red Book” app, a social media and e-commerce app designed to act as China’s replacement for Instagram.



A foreign ministry spokesperson strides up to the podium and imperiously surveys the gathered journalists. After announcing the theme, he starts to lay out the facts on Russia’s so-called ‘invasion of Ukraine’, as the outside world have so ‘recklessly’ and ‘arbitrarily’ decided to call it. The relationship between Russia and Ukraine is very complex, he states, and anyone wishing to make a subjective judgement on the subject ought to first stay a couple of weeks in war-torn Ukraine.


This is in fact only a parody of China’s foreign ministry press-conferences, a fact easily perceived from the presence of a Winnie the Pooh cartoon in place of the usual Chinese Communist Party emblem on the podium. Yet the imposter, a Taiwanese Youtuber by the name of Retina, imitates the style and mannerisms of the usual spokespeople with finesse, from their northern accents right down to their habitual correction of journalists’ word choices. During the question-and-answer period, he responds to their questions with both tetchiness and comically far-fetched explanations.


Retina belongs to a category of content creators who have come to prominence in Taiwan during recent years. They label their profession ‘Dishonouring the Chinese’ or ruhua, an ironic nod to the internet users who tirelessly protect China’s honour – by calling out Hollywood producers for not subjecting their movies to the same censorship as their home-grown cinema, or by hounding the wrestler John Cena into floor-tapping submission when he accidentally referred to Taiwan as a country.


The ruhua make amusing content out of these formidable internet warriors (or ‘little pinks’ as they are known in Taiwan) who leap over the ‘Great Firewall’ to do battle on the other side. Aside from his imitations of press conferences, Retina can also do a convincing rendition of a Chinese state TV broadcaster and sometimes interviews other members of the ruhua sphere. These include fellow Youtuber Bajiong, whose says his most popular segment is one in which he reports ‘little pinks’ to their own authorities for using a VPN to escape internet censorship, a crime in the mainland.

Satire is an apt response to the humourless language of ‘little pinks’ and foreign ministry ‘wolf warriors’. Even Taiwan’s own foreign minister Joseph Wu once tweeted to thank the mainland foreign ministry for the honour of including him on their November 2021 sanctions list. A recently trending pop song called ‘Fragile Heart’ had Taiwanese humming along to none too subtly coded references to sensitive mainland subjects.

The popularity of this content reflects the strong sense of Taiwanese identity under Tsai Ying-wen’s left-leaning DPP government, which according to a poll reached a historic high of 83.2% in 2020, the year of her re-election. Yet prospects aren’t as rosy as the picture of ‘fragile pinks’ suggests.


While Taiwanese identity is stronger than ever, particularly among the youth, there are increasing concerns about their exposure to mainland influence through Chinese-run social media platforms like Tiktok and Little Red Book. Taiwanese users are normally focused on following mainland fashion trends and internet slang. However, according to academics this could increase cultural identification with China, a far more effective reunification strategy than trolling by ‘little pinks.’

Even more worrying than this is the potential for these social media bridges to serve as conduits for misinformation attacks by China, as Chen Ming-tong, the Director-General of the National Security Bureau, told Deutsche Welle. For the last nine years, Taiwan has topped global lists for instances of misinformation attacks by foreign powers. As temperatures rise across the straits, this could well worsen.


 

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Yang, Ming-chieh, and Jonathan Chin. “Taiwan Most Targeted for False Information: Study.” Taipei Times, March 19, 2022. https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2022/03/20/2003775114.


【膜飯食刻】小粉紅舉報攝徒日記 卻因翻牆被消失?!|眼球中央電視台 Feat. @攝徒日記Fun TV. YouTube. YouTube, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFyEA3WSmgc.


【辱華記者會】俄烏戰爭掀排華浪潮 匪發言人出面迎戰|眼球中央電視台 Feat. @百靈果News. YouTube. YouTube, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfonhHVtzAo.


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