Early this year, international brands like Swedish clothing company H&M pledged not to use Xinjiang cotton picked through forced labor by Uyghurs. That statement triggered a “viral” Weibo post coordinated by the Chinese Communist Youth League.
Meanwhile, a widespread Chinese campaign had emerged since March 24 in supporting Xinjiang cotton, including an endorsement from entertainment celebrities. One may wonder how much the extent and scale of such a propaganda campaign can be.
A recently revealed case gives a clue.
It has been well known that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hires online commentators known as the “50 Cent Army”,”50 Cent Party” or wumao, due to the fact that such commentators are allegedly paid 50 cents per post) to direct public opinion in the Party’s favor.
For example, a state-owned company called Gold Group in Shandong alone has established a wumao group of more than 100 people.
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The regime is determined to mold public opinion ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, especially as it faces growing international criticism over its repression in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, as well as its persecution against other religious groups and political dissidents.
The ‘wumao’ company
According to a document obtained by the Chinese-language edition of The Epoch Times titled “Notice on Establishing Group Network Commenting Team” issued by Shandong Gold Group Corporation on Nov. 30, the notice is to implement other documents issued by the Central Cyberspace Administration Committee of the Chinese Communist Party of China and the Shandong Provincial Party Committee.
One such document is titled “Several Measures for the Building-up of online commentators team in State-invested and State-owned Enterprises.” It aims at influencing online public opinion through coordinated collective efforts.
According to the revealed document, the wuamo team established by the company consists of two tiers: the backbone and the grassroots. The backbone commentators are primarily composed of nine representatives from the company headquarters, various business units, and subdivisions, even from personnel who work in the propaganda department of its overseas units.
The grassroots-level commentators are mainly composed of three-level of corporate personnel, totaling 94 people from various state industries in Shandong.
Chen Siming, a political dissident in Zhuzhou, Hunan Province, told The Epoch Times that “We have heard of ‘wumao students,’ ‘wumao-at-large,’ ‘wumao prisoners,’ and so on. Many years ago, I was informed by an inside source that he also took up an assignment as a public opinion monitor.”
According to Chen, such practice of using employees of state-owned enterprises as wumao posters has long existed, and it is getting more common.
“A member of our civic society has made wumao posts every day since he got a job. When I criticized him for this, he said, “this is a task arranged by the leader. I have to do it. I have no other choice.”
The Gold Group exercises strict control over the posters: “It is necessary to carry out online commentary work under the coordination of the propaganda department in the Communist Party Committee of the company,” the leaked documents read.
Wumao posters are to be paid a stipend and are entitled to bonuses if their posts perform well. According to Chen, the CCP’s financial difficulties mean it cannot afford to pay many wumao commentators full time. But at the same time, economic downturn, societal unrest, and worsening diplomatic relations with other countries put the CCP “under greater pressure to ‘maintain stability’ in public opinion. So the Party asks state-owned companies to find wumao posters from within their own ranks.”