Finland has Angry Birds, but China has angry people. They don’t fling themselves at pigs’ houses, but instead throw around insults on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like service in China.
One of their favorite targets is Wu Danhong, 33, an assistant professor at China University of Political Science and Law, who writes online under the name of "Wu Fatian." He has been nicknamed by netizens "the chief representative of the 50 cent party," a pejorative unofficial term for Internet commentators hired by the government to post comments that favor the government policies and who are reportedly paid 5 mao (50 cents in yuan) a post.
Some netizens believe Wu always speaks for the government, and he usually comes to the defense of the authorities when there is negative news.
So when Wu posted online on October 29 about the illegal demolition of his family house in his hometown, which he described as "the destruction of private property," his critics were cheerful. They left comments like "as a veteran fighter for Communism, you should sacrifice your life for the revolution, never mind your house," "this is karma for being a member of the 50 cent party" and the ironic "well, you have to put yourself into the government’s shoes."
But Wu doesn’t seem angered by the comments. "It doesn’t really matter," Wu told the Global Times. "You don’t need to explain to the people who understand you, and its also useless to explain to the people who don’t understand you."
A day later, he wrote on Weibo that "I am a victim of online verbal violence. I experienced domestic violence when I was a child as my parents were very strict with me; now I have been under attack online for years. I can say I am very strong now, both physically and mentally."
Yet it’s not only other netizens who are uncomfortable with Wu’s words. On August 30, he suddenly found himself unable to post or comment on Weibo. He complained to the service manager, and he was told that it is probably because his posts "dealt too much with current politics." A day later, he was shocked to find out the number of his Weibo fans was rapidly declining and he was "forbidden" to follow others.
Wu has a history of controversial posting, although he has a conventional background. He was born in a farming family in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province. After getting a doctoral degree from the Law School of Renmin University of China, he joined the China University of Political Science and Law.
Wu describes himself as a humble person in real life, who doesn’t want to offend other people’s sense of face. But online he seems like a different person, more aggressive and direct.
He first became active on the Internet in 1998 when he started posting comments on a legal BBS. Since then the Internet has been an important part of his life. He set up his own blog in 2005.
"My writings have circled around one idea, or one hope — that one day those who observe the law will not be alone and isolated, that those who break the law will live in fear, and that the law enforcement process can promise fair trials and give us a society in which justice prevails," he once wrote.
He registered on Weibo in April 2010, writing that "the rise of the microblog has revolutionary significance for freedom of speech in China."
But he soon became involved with a war of words. After village leader and local whistle blower Qian Yunhui from Zhejiang Province was crushed by a truck in December 2010, Wu found himself under fire for backing the local government’s assertion that Qian’s death had just been "an accident."
He also got involved in an online brawl with Zhao Lihua, a poet from Hebei Province. Wu pointed out that Zhao is the wife the Party Committee Secretary in Xianghe county in Hebei, and accused her of accumulating fashionable bags and designer clothes from her husband’s ill-gotten gains. Zhao was so upset that she made a list of all those who had come under attack from Wu, and challenged him to meet in person to argue.
Zhao isn’t the only one who’s been called out by Wu. Yao Bo, a public affairs commentator, also invited Wu to "settle a spat in public" on October 7 at a gas station. Wu agreed to show up. But, no doubt to the disappointment of potential spectators, there was no fight, either physical or verbal. Instead a police car was summoned to the scene in case of an emergency.
Wu also has a lot of supporters, with more than 85,000 followers on Weibo. In response to the attacks on Wu, they show support by telling him "You did nothing wrong but telling the truth."
"It’s very common to have different opinions on Weibo. It is a free platform to express yourself. I speak the truth. I want to serve the truth, not to fight," he said.
Wu is also famous as the founder of an "anti-rumor alliance." The group, formed on May 18, has busted over 100 online rumors. Its slogan is "serving the truth."
However, an editorial in the reform-minded Southern Metropolis Daily accused the group of "selectively busting rumors" and "only busting popular rumors, but not official ones" in order to "correct the guidance of public opinion."
In response to these accusations, Wu said the group cannot bust all the rumors. Instead they can only choose those that are widespread and most harmful if not stopped.
"There are not many official rumors as the government understands that spreading rumors will make them lose credibility and cause public panic. Most of the rumors are popular ones that are very harmful to the society," Wu said.
Wu said debating with netizens has become part of his daily life. "To deal with people who have different opinions from you, I love to quote one of Chinese scholar Hu Xi’s sayings. ‘Forgiveness is more important than freedom.’"