You can’t have an online conversation about China without the Wumaos interfering — believe me. It never happens. Not on Instagram. Not on Twitter. Not on Reddit. Nowhere.
When you are involved in online discussions about China and Chinese politics, you might wonder:
As most social media platforms are banned in China, how come do all these Chinese nationalist trolls find and try to hijack your posts nevertheless?
You will understand after you learned what Wumaos are and how they work. After doing lots of research and talking to Chinese and non-Chinese people, in this article, I will explain the concept to you. I will discuss many examples, too, which are bizarre and scary at the same time.
Disclaimer: To “normal” Chinese people that behave properly and involve themselves in healthy discussions online and love their country: This article is NOT about you.
Table of Contents
- What does wumao mean?
- Examples of Wumaos in action on social media platforms
- Wumao Discussion Strategies
- Topics Wumaos love to get involved into
- FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
What does wumao mean?
Wumao (五毛) are people hired by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) propaganda department to spread misinformation online and manipulate the public opinion. They’re also called “Chinese internet trolls“ or “50 cent army“. Typically, they respond to others’ social media posts in a very provoking and emotional way, and disturb any discussions about “undesirable“ topics.
Wumao in Chinese means 50 cents. The origin of the name comes from the payment that these underpaid Chinese nationalists would receive from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for every single message they wrote online.
The more pro-China-nationalist-comments they manage to write online, the more they get paid. With the local currency being RMB, 50 Chinese cents would approximately equal ¢8. It seems they got a raise recently, to 80 RMB cents, but the name Wumao remains.
If you got about 15 minutes of spare time now, watch this video explaining the concept of Wumaos:
Examples of Wumaos in action on social media platforms
There’s nothing that adds more value to this type of article than real-life examples.
Let me try to give you some examples of Twitter-, Facebook- and Reddit posts that I am 100% certain have been written by paid nationalists Chinese trolls.
Donald Trump was not the first guy who spammed Twitter with political lies. The Chinese guys were there waaaaaaaay before him.
Let me try to illustrate how extremely aggressive Wumaos are on Twitter.
1: “Uyghur propaganda”
The Chinese government run a genocide on the Uyghur population in a place called Xinjiang.
That turns out to be a problem for them.
For instance, major corporations like H&M and Nike have voiced their concerns about muslims in concentration camps producing cotton. Stuff like that isn’t going unnoticed in other countries. And the Chinese government hate that to happen.
So a lot of the current Wumao efforts is to pretend that the crititicsm against the ongoing genocide is “propaganda”. Hehe…
There are even some “western people” that go on about this topic:
To understand why there are two white people working for a dictatorship regime, you need some background info. And I’ll give you that right away.
The Times have written this perfect piece of article named “Beijing funds British YouTubers to further its propaganda war”. Go read it. And you’ll understand that the CCP propaganda goes further than you think.
According to the article, no western journalists have ever been allowed into Xinjiang to, “do any independent research on their own“.
This gentleman claim that the Xinjiang genocide evidence is a result of, “actors used by CIA and WUC separatist group”. Can it be more cringe?
2: Pictures of Wumaos in action from a Chinese prison
A reporter, Jennifer Zeng, posted a superb photo on Twitter. This is an image of Chinese prisoners that are currently being taught on how to be a Wumao on the Western Social Media platforms.
Quite disturbing and interesting at the same time:
#3: The CCP Virus propaganda
After “things” happened in Wuhan in late 2020, official CCP party members have been extremely busy tweeting propaganda about what they did to the world. This is just one of many examples:
It’s quite funny how CCP desperately try to portrait the CCP Virus as a “success story” in China. Even though they lie about cases, they lie about deaths — and they lie about the origin. Stay classy, CCP!
Zhao Lijian, one of the “Wolf Warriors” of China, spread propaganda about the virus on Twitter. For some bizarre reason (or out of pure desperation), he actually managed to write that the virus might have come to Wuhan from American soldiers:
Yes. He actually wrote that. The funny thing is that one of CCP’s own Wolf Warriors ask for transparency from other nations. You can’t make this s*** up! 😉
Lijian Zhao is a very active guy on Twitter. He was also the one who mixed his personal and official account and started to follow gay porn accounts on his CCP Twitter account accidentally. (Source: Reddit)
That’s a bit awkward. Following X-rated gay accounts should you not be ashamed of, Lijian! But please do it from your personal account next time.
Wumaos are quite eager to use Facebook as well. However, Facebook is not actually a very wumao-friendly platform.
It takes a lot of effort to join Facebook through a VPN.
After all, they need to open an account with a real e-mail, make a fake persona…and avoid using too strong words in order to not get that account banned. That takes up a lot of time.
And as you remember – the wumaos only get paid per comment they make – not the amount of fake accounts they register. 😉
However, you can clearly see that they have been active on several Facebook posts and groups already:
1: “Western media are so wrong about Xinjiang! I have been there!!!!”
2: Nancy Pelosi and the Beijing Olympics 2022 boycott
When politician Nancy Pelosi asked for a boycott of the Beijing 2022 Olympics, the Wumaos went mental with their fake accounts in the comment section. Nothing was related to what she said, but they tried to adjust the narrative.
The Wumaos are good at trying to switch the discussion topic to something entirely different. I guess that’s a skill you need to have when you don’t have any arguments.
3: South China Sea aggression
Every country in Asia is dead tired of CCP getting involved with everything in the South China Sea. And the Wumaos know that. After all: they’ve been paid by the CCP to promote absolute garbage like this comment:
PS! It’s worth to mention that Facebook is blocked in China. The only way a Chinese person can get on Facebook is to either illegally use a VPN (which is EXTREMELY seldom used by normal Chinese people). Or, as you might know, get access to Facebook as a Wumao by the Chinese Government. 🙂
YouTube got a comment section below every video. In every single China-related video, you will see Wumaos commenting on all types of stuff.
These are just some of the comments that I found after browsing for five minutes:
1: Denial of the Tiananmen Square Massacre
So this is a Chinese person that spits on the graves of the people who died in the Tiananmen Square massacre. And he or she does that to protect the government that killed innocent Chinese people. Charming. I’m sure his family is proud of him.
Certain Wumaos on YouTube do indeed acknowledge that the Chinese Communist Party slaughtered innocent students with guns and tanks. But they still interfere in discussions, trying to do the classic whataboutism:
2: Made up stories about their colleagues and muslims
This one is somewhat awkward. And obviously 100% fake.
You might remember that the Xinjiang genocide is a big problem for the Chinese government. Not because they force their citizens into concentration camps. The government is not much concerned about that.
The problem is that people all around the world have started to take notice. To deal with the truth being spread on YouTube, CCP has hired Wumaos to post fake Xinjiang-related stories on YouTube:
3: ALWAYS deny the Xinjiang genocide! ALWAYS!
It just never happened. Fake news!
You also have to remember that YouTube is banned in China. The only Chinese people (in mainland China) who can access YouTube are either illegally using VPN or a part of the state-owned propaganda department.
On Reddit & Quora
It’s easy to register on Reddit. All it takes is a functional e-mail, and you’ll be ready to spam your pro-Chinese messages in no time.
This screenshot is probably the best of “soft wumao-ing” I’ve seen. Someone opens a discussion thread on Facebook to explain why Facebook is banned in China.
This user presents six reasons why the Chinese government has blocked Facebook and other social media apps in mainland China.
As most people might see this as accurate and interesting information, all of his arguments are wrong. We all know why the Chinese government have banned Facebook in China. It has nothing to do with competition of domestic social media channels. It has everything to do with controlling the narrative and blocking the truth from their own population.
Imagine that the user actually says that “Vietnam has a political system very similar to China’s”. That actually made me laugh in real life. 😉
Are you one of those who use TikTok? Well, there’s a big chance that you’ve recently been seeing Chinese state-driven propaganda on that platform.
After all, TikTok is Chinese (which you can read more about on Wikipedia).
I’m not going to go into every single propaganda video that CCP upload on TikTok. That would take me ages. But there is one guy who has already created a video about this topic on his YouTube channel.
What you’re about to see is quite frightening: you need to verify your age to watch this video; that’s why I don’t embed it here but link to the video with the title: China’s TikTok Propaganda is Out of Control.
Wumao Discussion Strategies
As you might have seen from the examples above, there are certain phrases and “arguments” that Wumaos use very frequently. After all: they’re following a script.
I’ll explain a few of their main “arguments” and why they use them.
1: “Come and see for yourself!”
The main argument for covering the Xinjiang genocide is the “invitation method”.
The narrative always goes like this:
“Please come to Xinjiang and see for yourself! Everything you read in biased western media is false! Come to have a look at how happy the Uyghurs are at our beautiful camps! And by the way — they are training camps. Not concentration camps.”
The problem is that no journalists will ever be allowed to do investigation in the concentration camps. But it’s easy to invite people into a closed home.
When UN wanted to investigate what happened in Xinjiang, they were met with fragile excuses. You can read that story on Human Rights Watch.
It’s not only the Wumaos who use this discussion strategy about Xinjiang. Even the Chinese embassy in Malaysia used these exact words after Uyghurs protested outside the Chinese embassy:
2: “Paid CIA troll!”
These Wumaos are paid by the Chinese government to spread propaganda online. That’s a concept they are very well aware of.
So if you’re saying something they don’t like – why don’t they give you a taste of your own medicine?
Many Wumaos will use the terms “CIA troll” or “paid by the CIA”. They claim that everyone who says against China are paid by an American bureau.
Just after publishing this article, we actually had a perfect example of this. We got lucky. This is one of the first comments that appeared after I hit the “Publish” button:
If he only knew that I have never been to the United States…
3: “You don’t understand China! You don’t speak Chinese! You don’t live here!”
If you try to explain the Wumaos that the Chinese society isn’t going very well, they might start to question your knowledge about the Chinese society. After all: you are not Chinese. You do not live in China. How can you know anything about China?
As a foreigner, you do not know these facts about the Chinese society:
- China is placed 93rd on the most recent UN Global Happiness Index.
- China is doing terrible on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
- China is doing terrible on the Human Development Index (HDI).
- China is doing terrible on the Freedom of Press Index.
(By the way: Thanks to the anonymous Twitter used who sent these statistics to me. Despite living in China for five years, I have never heard about the rankings on these indexes. Very helpful.)
I’ve seen these statistics be presented more and more in the “Wumao vs normal people” discussions on Twitter and YouTube.
If you ask Wumaos, none of these statistics are valid. None. They can’t say why they are wrong. But they’re just wrong. None of these indexes tell the truth about the fantastic, open, successful Chinese society.
Some random Wumao in a basement or prison in Beijing knows much better the state of the Chinese society compared to globally acknowledged statistics.
As you’re not Chinese; you don’t know if any of that is true. So stick to your own business.
4: “Western media bias, CNN, BBC, all fake news!”
If there’s one thing that Donald Trump and Chinese Wumaos have in common; it’s the love for the phrase “fake news”. Wumaos adopted that.
For some reason, Wumaos believe (or are paid to believe) that western media are all lies. Yet, the newspapers in China are 100% owned and run by the government.
It’s also funny how the term “western media” is used. If you do use the term “western media”, you do refer to radio stations in Sweden, newspapers in Germany, private political bloggers in Canada — and everything in between. But by putting a label on it, it becomes more efficient.
When the Wumaos can claim that “western media lies”, they categorize everything outside of China as one unit. Handy.
Topics Wumaos love to get involved into
You have to understand one thing. The Wumaos are paid to only interfere with discussion topics that are a big issue for the Chinese government.
So let’s have a look at these sensitive topics below.
1: Tiananmen square massacre
CCP murdered thousands of innocent Chinese people on June 4th 1989. The Chinese government have yet not apologized to the many grieving Chinese families who lost their son, daughter, brother, or sister.
Recently, CCP desperately try to remove the incident from history books and education within China.
- “Tiananmen Square massacre never happened!”
- “These students deserved to die. They were attacking the police and killing CCP soliders!”
- “The Tiananmen Square massacre was important for China to stay strong and united!”
2: The genocide in Xinjiang
The muslim minority in Xinjiang province is put into concentration camps. Women are sterilized. Families are broken up and literally hundreds of thousands of men are kept in concentration camps without any communication with their families.
- “Come to Xinjiang and see for yourself and stop your fake news smearing China you ****”
- “LOL, fake western media talk about genocide. What about the Native Americans in US?!?!??!”
- “I know people in Xinjiang, they say they have a good life, and it’s all fake, CIA bias, America white man trash!”
3: CCP Virus
The pandemic hit the world as a result of a big cover-up and lies for many months. China is actually one of the countries who handled the virus terribly, but they keep lying about their death toll.
- …don’t even let me start to write what they actually believe about this topic.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s answer some questions finally:
Do most Chinese support the Wumaos?
Most Chinese have no idea that the Chinese government has paid trolls to destroy literally every China-related online conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube.
This is not something that the government would tell their people.
How many wumaos are currently working for the Chinese Communist Party?
Just like with all other statistics, you can never trust the Chinese Communist Party and their numbers. And obviously: the Chinese Communist Party has never publicly spoken about their large 50-cent-army. They would lose face if they did so.
One Harvard study from 2016 suggests that about 488 million messages every year (!) can be traced back to paid CCP Wumaos. In other words: more than 1 million messages across various social media platforms are published by paid Chinese nationalists every single day!
Is there any point discussing with Wumaos about China on social media?
Not really. In the beginning, it can be fun to throw things at them. They will get emotional and angry very fast. After all: they’re just doing a job for the government, and they need the money, I guess.
Other China-related articles
By the way: I love China. That was my second home for about four years. Therefore, I’ve written loads of articles on both the good and bad sides of that beautiful country. Here are some of them: