“We proactively do what professional 5 maos do, but out of our own will.”
What is 5 mao? The 5 Mao Party, or 50 Cent Party (1 mao = 10 cents), are those who are hired by the Chinese government to post pro-government comments online to shape public opinion. They are said to be paid 50 cents per post.
Though the compensation of 5 mao per post is probably more of a joke, the existence of professional online commentators on government payroll and their role in China’s complex net of censorship has never been denied. The term “5 mao” has been around for years to refer to paid pro-government commentators, and occasionally, to broadly refer to anyone who blindly supports government policies.
But as China’s tug of war between the left and the right, represented respectively by “public intellectuals” and “5 Maos,” evolves, there rises another camp who claims to be independent of both left and right, and “sides only with truth.” They call themselves “5 mao who brings their own food/feeds themselves (自带干粮的五毛/自干五).” Or as I like to call them, the voluntary 5 mao.
“The rise of voluntary 5 mao is a result of the government’s lack of credibility among its people. Due to voluntary 5 mao’s independence of the government, their opinions are easily accepted by the public. “Voluntary,” instead of “5 mao,” lies at the heart of the concept. Independent thinking and self-sustainability are what make voluntary 5 mao different from professional 5 mao.” One of the crew summarized.
Most of voluntary 5 maos take pride in their “independent” middle-ground position where they not only recognize China’s improvements and merits, but also acknowledge its many challenges and problems. They distance themselves with paid 5 mao by claiming that they do review government policies and actions with critical eyes. They also position themselves at the opposite of China’s liberal intellectuals because in their eyes, the liberals are “social downers” who unconditionally criticize everything Chinese.
Many voluntary 5 maos said they were once part of the silent majority, but chose to become a voluntary 5 mao because they were very much annoyed by China’s liberal intellectuals who’d “sell universal values at the cost of truth,” and blame the government for everything.
“I was a liberal when I was in college. But now I’m a voluntary 5 mao because I’m grossed out by online public intellectuals.” One explained.
But guess what, despite all the talks about being independent, on China’s always polarized scale of left and right, these voluntary 5 maos are far more left than right. As many of them pointed out, patriotism and a sense of genuine confidence over China’s own path are what ultimately motivate them.
They buy into, and are often themselves promoters of the official argument that Western-style democracy isn’t for China. They oppose student protests in Hong Kong. Most recently when Liaoning Daily published a controversial piece that blamed social science professors for being overly negative and critical of China, its society and political system, voluntary 5 maos think the newspaper has point out an accurate social problem that needs to be tackled – they advocate that professors and journalists should ditch criticism and help spread “positive energy.” Not surprisingly, all are in line with government rhetoric.
These voluntary 5 maos may not be as independent as they claim, but the growing number of grass-root conservatives in China is interesting to observe nevertheless. The Chinese public is tired of grand narratives, may it be leftist or rightist.