The yellow, violent mob culture of a Chinese BBS


"Very yellow, very violent,"—dubbed China's first online meme of 2008—continues to circulate this week. The phrase was first uttered by a middle-school student interviewed for a CCTV broadcast on the dangers of online pornography. It has given rise to some fun egao (or spoofs) targeted at CCTV and the national anti-pornography campaign.

The latest joke website is Like Saohuang, this website is a Digg-clone that allows users to submit links and vote on whether they are yellow or violent enough. It classifies posts into four categories: "Very Yellow," "Very Violent," "Very Yellow and Very Violent," and "So Good, So Powerful," a catch-phrase on the Mop BBS where the whole thing started.

Fun stuff. But the "very yellow, very violent" episode is yet another incident of "Internet violence," this time targeted at a 13-year-old girl. Regardless of whether CCTV ought to better protect the privacy of the people it interviews, many people felt that singling out one individual for abuse by an entire BBS was irresponsible and unfair. A blog post translated at this Global Voices article noted that "Mop" is only an inverted letter away from "Mob."

But that's how Mop operates these days, writes Mai Tian, the head of Mayi, a consumer-oriented SNS. In a piece posted to his blog on 8 January, Mai argues that "Internet violence" is a part of Mop's BBS culture, although this wasn't always the case. He traces the development of this culture from Mop's origins as a small BBS a decade ago and arrives at the pessimistic conclusion that mob violence appears to be an inevitable result of the growth of an online community.

Mai's blog entry was reposted on a number of other blogs and forums (Hecaitou noted that Mai is always "tilting at windmills") and was excerpted as an op-ed in The Beijing News last week. In the translation below, all emphasis is from the original, but we've added links to the various episodes he mentions to provide some context.

The Mop culture behind "Very yellow, very violent"

by Mai Tian

It was no coincidence that the "very yellow, very violent" affair started on Mop—this was yet another monster spawned by the "BT culture" that Mop champions.

More than a few broad debates over social phenomena have been started on online platforms over in recent years, as far back as the infamous Sun Zhigang Incident or the Huang Jing Affair, which dragged on for years before coming to a close. More recently, there was the CCTV-5 press conference and the South China Tiger affair, which has yet to be resolved. According to my own observations, the model by which the Internet spreads a situation has gradually matured over the past few years. For example, looking at media choices, we can see the following guidelines:

For humanistic thinking and contentious topics, choose Cat898's Cat's Eye View; for sociology and the people's livelihood, choose Tianya's Miscellaneous Chatter; for entertainment and celebrities, Tianya's Entertainment Gossip; for emotional topics, Tianya's World of Feelings—please note the absence of Mop's influential Hodgepodge in this list. This is because for the past few years, that fiery online BBS has had an influence vastly different from the rest of them. To use Mop's own words, Hodgepodge is the most "BT" online media platform I've seen.

MOP's Hodgepodge is a BT online media platform in this way: if there's an incident that erupts on another online platform, it'll bear some relationship to society (like the recent tiger calendar), but nearly all of the hot incidents on Hodgepodge are attacks directed at ordinary people. A brief sketch of events that originated on MOP over the past few years: spoofing Xiao Pang [Qian Zhijun] in '03, Tongxu-gate in '06, the Cat-Mutilation Affair in '06, and the "Very Yellow, Very Violent" affair just recently. If you sort them out, you'll find that practically all incidents that originate on Mop are group attacks directed at ordinary people!

The eruption of the "very yellow, very violent" affair was no surprise in light of this BT culture. The situation was sparked on Mop because when the girl uttered "very yellow, very violent," it was similar to the Mop catch-phrase "so good, so powerful" and caught the eye of the moppers. This is the root of it. But the resulting controversy on external sites and independent blogs began to connect this topic to the clout of CCTV—all of that was just a "footnote." To put it bluntly, Mop netizens were enamored with egao and from start to finish never cared a whit about CCTV—their sole concern was simply the text: "very yellow, very violent." Mop users were not pursuing the "meaning" of the situation; they were having fun playing with the "text" (or images), or delighting in making fun of someone.

Mop's "BT culture" was not built overnight. Essentially, Mop has gone through three stages of development over the past decade: interesting—boring—violent. Correspondingly, its active users showed three stages as well: "interesting otaku boys and girls"—"boring masses"—"violent, aggressive groups." These three stages correspond to the time periods 1997–2004–2006.

Before 2004, Mop was frequented mainly by "otaku," who liked games and anime and who were heavily influenced by Japanese culture. Mop was a small circle, or perhaps one could say it was a "adolescent subculture group." There has not been much research into "adolescent subculture groups" in this country, but I believe that they are a perfectly normal phenomenon. Actually, "adolescent subcultures" will exist with or without the Internet; one typical expression is when a group of young people gather out of the mainstream and face off against adult society. Young gang-members (古惑仔), for example, belong to a subculture. Of course, on Mop, the subculture is Japanese otaku culture, a culture based on cartoons and anime. Mop's otaku culture has two distinguishing factors: first, sensitivity to and deconstruction of the "text" (i.e. mo lei tau)—this is why BT is popular on Mop. Second, a high degree of self-recognition bordering on narcissism—this is why YY is popular on Mop. Back then, BT and YY were the two pillars of Mop that supported the subculture group. But in that stage, Mop was made up of intelligent, unique individuals, and that made it "interesting."

By 2004, Mop had entered a second stage: boring. The transition was not directed by anyone in particular; rather, it was a natural development of the website. As more and more people came, it was impossible to maintain the "small groups" within a "subculture"; they had to face the greater public. This is the road that a BBS must inevitably follow when it begins to develop. And for Mop, the transition was brought to completion by "145" [Ayawawa]. (Just like Tianya's transition was brought about through Zhuying Qingtong.) Ayawawa was actually a very pragmatic Internet user, entirely at odds with the former "self-amused" subculture of Mop. But the door had been opened, and the new Mop users that swarmed in were not as well-bred as the old moppers. The public liked stunts; they chose Ayawawa. At this point, after the old moppers endured various BBS incidents, they retreated to the "Mop Backyard." This heralded the completion of Mop's transition: it had changed from an "interesting" forum to a "boring" forum.

"Boring" was OK. The public needs "boring"; "boring" was only uncomfortable for a minority of elite moppers, who felt as if their nest had been overrun. But following Chen Yizhou's acquisition of MOP in '04, the site transitioned from a public forum into a commercial form—this was where it set foot on a road to "aggression" from which there was no return. The "World of Warcraft Tongxu-gate" in '06 is a typical example. Do not forget why Tongxu-gate was so explosive: the website itself was the key, because it repeatedly pushed posts to the top of its recommendation list. (I was at Tianya at the time, and by comparison, I did my utmost to delete those posts. And through both the BBS and the media, I called out against "Internet violence" and urged posters not to violate the privacy of an ordinary netizen.) Tongxu-gate was preposterous—here's just one example: the head-shot of the so-called leading actress of the incident was actually the photo of a model from Taiwan whose blog was on Wretch. After this happened, editors of the commercial website Mop took no action. Instead, they used the opportunity to increase their influence, even granting New Express an early exclusive report. (In passing, let me say that in the "very yellow, very violent" affair, New Express was once again the first print media to report on it.) And because of the tacit approval or even encouragement of Mop's website editors, the "cat mutilation affair" followed, as did the "very yellow, very violent" affair today—all of these incidents directed at ordinary people. Exercising moral judgments against a high standard, using facts of dubious veracity, clustering in anonymous, irresponsible groups, and exposing the privacy of ordinary people—in all of these incidents, weak netizens were incited to harm even weaker individuals.

Let the masses contend with the masses; let the weak attack the even weaker; let lies expose lies, let hooligans criticize power—this is what I see in today's online incidents.

From a broader perspective, over the past decade I have observed that practically all prominent BBS platforms are unable to escape the vicious cycle of interesting—boring—group violence. For example, in October, 2007, the Zhang Meiran incident that started on Tianya had a Mop feel to it, while the controversy kicked up by the redesign of Douban in '07 had the feel of Tianya. Essentially, Douban is Tianya-ifying as Tianya is Mop-ifying. What about Mop? They are engaged in so-called "commercialization." The way it looks now, there's no hope for either Mop or Tianya. But my personal hope is that Douban can escape this vicious cycle. Because at the end of the day, I don't believe that this vicious cycle has any real commercial value, much less any media value.

The last thing I'll mention is why the "very yellow, very violent" incident did not have much of a media effect in Baidu's Postbar—there are actually far more posts on the incident in Postbar than on Mop. This is a result of how the website structures its product: Baidu Postbar is basically a decentralized platform with no editors—it is not media. Mop, however, is media: there are techniques for editors to call the attention of all netizens to a single board: Hodgepodge. Mop's media characteristics lie not in whether its content is produced by its users, but in how its editors employ close, careful guidance.

Many online BBSs are actually working as media, and they have a commercial interest in their media functionality. But when when situations break out, they shirk their responsibility and make the excuse that it's a discussion originating with the netizens—what absurd logic! According to this logic, the commercial advertising revenue that flows to the website ought to be distributed to the netizens.

At the time of Tongxu-gate, they bullied an ordinary college student, but I said nothing. At the time of the cat mutilation, they bullied a divorced woman, but I said nothing. Now they've begun to bully a 13-year-old girl—how brave they are!

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There are currently 3 Comments for The yellow, violent mob culture of a Chinese BBS.

Comments on The yellow, violent mob culture of a Chinese BBS

OMG, who did this translation ~~ haha

BTW, the digg clone is hot, they earn big this time, haha :)

What is "BT culture"?

Mike: Here, BT culture seems to be identified with the a certain segment of non-mainstream online youth culture that expresses itself through creative non-sequiturs and excitable flights of fancy - random humor, memes, and so forth. Mai Tian identifies elements of Japanese pop culture in it, but it's distinct from the 哈日/哈韩 culture that pops up in other places.

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