Ross, KA, Righteous indignation online: China's angry/shit youth, The Third International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies, Day 2 Session 3 Spaces of Conflict, April, 2010, University of South Australia, Adelaide, pp. KR. (2010) [Conference Extract]
The force of China’s online community can now be felt around the world, from ticketing chaos at the Melbourne International Film Festival to the hacking of pro-Tibetan independence computers. Within China, anyone who stirs the anger of Chinese netizens can be subjected to individualised mass cyber-attack which can have real effects. A woman who tortured kittens and posted the video online was named and shamed, losing her job. A girl who complained online about the lack of decent TV programs in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake was forced into hiding and subjected to violent and sexist threats via video. China’s ‘fennu qingnian’ or ‘angry youth’ are easily motivated into retaliation. When their collective heightened sense of national pride and national interest is offended, the China’s online vigilante community or ‘human flesh search engine’ swings into action.
Understanding this behaviour requires challenging the simple explanation of extreme nationalism, particularly as a state induced mobilisation strategy. Using Appadurai’s Fear of Small Numbers (2006), I argue that the online numerical majority become predatory with regards to the minority when the minority threatens to expose the incompleteness of the ‘China as homogenous/unified’ narrative. Appadurai calls this the anxiety of incompleteness. The key word to note is ‘anxiety’ as emotion is central to the actions of the ‘fennu qingnian’ or ‘angry youth.’ I argue that the word ‘indignant’ is more appropriate as it captures the sense of injustice and reparation which is common in ‘fenqing’ discourse. With a play on pronunciation characteristic of the Chinese language, ‘fenqing’ can also mean ‘shit youth’, thus drawing attention to the dual insider/outlaw status of the community. The community, however, gains a sense of legitimacy from two sources. It draws on China’s history of youth defence of the motherland. It also does the work of the state in policing boundaries.
I conclude that the ‘fenqing’ form a community of affect which is an outgrowth of gamer culture. This is more than extreme peer group pressure online. In a sense, this is ‘World of Warcraft’ made real.