The Epoch Times has previously reported on how the communist regime has mobilized the so-called 50-cent Army, or professionally hired internet trolls, to sway internet public opinion in favor of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 2000. They create millions of messages a year, following orders of internal directives to target specific persons or groups, such as to make America “the target of criticism” and “play down the existence of Taiwan.”
Recently, online photos began circulating widely, of prison inmates in China who were being trained to become part of the Chinese regime’s troll army. According to an article posted on Chinese internet portal China News Center, prisoners or prisoners on death row would write social media posts praising the Party. Once they reached their online post quota, the reward would be to reduce their sentences. They were assigned to influence public opinion, promote the Communist Party, and defame people and countries that the Communist Party would like to discredit.
Subsequently, many Chinese elite figures have become the victims of their efforts, as recently reported in Chinese media.
A Famous Teacher, an Olympic Medalist, University Professors
On July 3, the CCP Standing Committee of Tangshan city announced the dismissal of an official named Zhang Lijun, a representative to the local Party rubber-stamp legislature. Zhang’s other post as a member of the municipal Education, Science, Culture, and Health Committee was also terminated.
Zhang is also the principal of the Kailuan No. 1 Middle School, a key middle school in Hebei Province, has enjoyed a good reputation in China because of her outstanding teaching. She was once honored with the “number one famous teacher” award in Hebei Province.
Zhang is a member of China’s Writers Association. She had become the target of the 50-cent Army after she wrote an essay criticizing them.
On June 3, Lao Lishi, a silver medal in the 10-meter women’s platform in the 2004 Summer Olympics, wrote on her Weibo social media account: “I am a good person, but get tough when I meet maggots.” Maggots were a reference to the 50-cent Army.
To support Lao’s comment, Zhang wrote an article titled, “The one and only Lao Lishi—once upon a time a diver, now a maggot terminator.” Quickly, Zhang became the target of online attacks. The 50-cent Army found that Zhang had written an article to support Fang Fang, a writer in the central city of Wuhan who documented life during the CCP virus outbreak. That was enough for the 50-cent Army to report Zhang to the authorities, costing her political appointments.
Likewise, Hubei University professor Liang Yanping was suspended after she expressed support for Fang Fang. On June 20, she was expelled from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Her university also suspended her from teaching.
She was reported to authorities for writing a post on Nov. 8, 2019 mourning the death of a Hong Kong student who died during the anti-extradition bill movement in Hong Kong.
This April, Liang wrote another post supporting Fang Fang’s Wuhan diaries. She made other posts about the Hong Kong protest movement against Beijing’s encroachment on city affairs, and the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989, a topic that is severely suppressed and censored until this day. These posts were reported by the 50-cent Army. Subsequently, Liang was investigated by the university.
On the evening of April 26, the official Weibo account of Wuhan University issued a notice stating that after netizens reported on professor Liang and her personal “inappropriate behavior” online, the university conducted an “in-depth investigation.”
On June 20, a notice from Hubei University stated that Liang had repeatedly published and tweeted comments about “Japanese-related” and “Hong Kong-related” articles on social media platforms. The report said that they were “severe violations of the Party’s political discipline and political rules, as well as violations of teachers’ professional ethics, which have caused extremely adverse effects in society.” The school announced that Liang should be expelled from the CCP and punished with a demerit record. Her qualification as a graduate faculty was cancelled and she was relieved from her teaching duties.
Regarding Liang’s punishment, Fang Fang said on Weibo: “Hubei University has embarrassed all universities in China as well as Hubei Province.”
In addition to Zhang and Liang, Wang Xiaoni, a retired teacher at Hainan University; Liu Chuane, Dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Hubei University; Tan Banghe, Vice Dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Central China Normal University; and Jing Ya, a professor of Nanchang University, were also reported by the 50-cent Army for their support of Fang Fang.
Fang Fang, Writer in Wuhan
Fang Fang is a popular writer in China. Her essays on life during the pandemic were recently translated and published in a book titled, “Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from a Quarantined City,” and made available online on Amazon.com. Michael Berry, a professor of contemporary Chinese cultural studies at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles), translated her work. As a result, Berry also became the target of the 50-cent Army’s abusive language.
According to her biography on Amazon.com, Fang Fang was born into an intellectual family in Nanjing city in 1955 and spent most of her childhood in Wuhan, where she witnessed many of the CCP’s political movements under Party leader Mao Zedong, from the Great Leap Forward to the Cultural Revolution. She graduated from Wuhan University with a degree in Chinese literature.
Fang Fang started her diary on Jan. 25 as she was stuck under lockdown in Wuhan. She recorded her experiences and thoughts, with a total of 60 articles published by March 25. Her writings, critical of local authorities’ measures, mader her a target of 50-cent trolls for nearly two months.
In her final post on March 25, she condemned the 50-cent Army as the “virus of Chinese society.” She wrote, “Despite the low quality of the extreme left, they are like the novel coronavirus that spreads in society with the fastest speed.”
She added that Wuhan residents are obligated to seek justice for those who died wrongfully due to authorities’ mismanagement of the crisis. Otherwise, it is a shame that Wuhan people will have to bear forever, she wrote.
In her post titled, “All the questions, but no one has answered them,” she questioned why no officials have come forward to take responsibility for the crisis. She commented, “It’s funny that it used to be that officials would blame the experts, and experts would blame the officials. But now, they all blame it on the United States.” In March, Chinese officials and state media began spreading the unfounded claim that the virus originated in the United States.
Blocking the Truth and Suppressing the Voice of the People
Fang Fang’s online diary was met with many attacks from the 50-cent Army. Domestic publishers who considered publishing her diary soon withdrew their offers. Fang Fang wrote, “I can’t deal with so many teams of attackers gathering in Wuhan. But, I’d like to know who’s backing them up.”
Chinese commentator Cheng Xiaorong analyzed that the trolls are likely backed up by the regime’s security and censorship agencies in charge of squashing dissent, such as the Political and Legal Commission, the Propaganda Department, the Cyberspace Administration, and the Public Security Bureau. From the Party’s top to bottom, they are deployed layer by layer and operate in different ways with the purpose of blocking the truth and suppressing the voice of the people, he added.