Mind the Gap Saturday: Forums East and West
Enter the Big Big Pig
Mind the Gap Saturday is a feature every Saturday where Blognation China tells its readership the differences - the gap - in the tech, mobile, and enterprise worlds between China and the Western world.
The humble forums. Once a dial-up operation back in the days of BBS systems, these forums have now become an integral part of our lives. And forums, too, are taking China by storm. Find out more about forums in the People's Republic on this Mind the Gap Saturday.
The feeling of being without a (real) name
Face it: the sense of being a creative nobody or an anonymous somebody never felt better - than in China. With way out there names like Magic Beans, Heartless Man or even - get this - A String of Eights, your real identity will remain your personal secret for a lifetime - unless you reveal it.
This wasn't the case, though, after the Xiamen PX demonstrations (the demonstrations dealt with local residents upset that a new polluting factory was given the construction go-ahead). For quite some time, Xiamen BBS systems forced the user to use his or her real name, even if it was just to utter an innocent nihao.
In the rest of the nation, however, the Big Big Pig and the Flying Smoke (or is that Flying Cigarette?) were back in the black - as popular nicknames on forums.
The weirder and the more traditional a nickname gets, the better - and the more localized the participant is in the whole forum. Here are just 10 all-too-typical nicknames from Chinese forums that will make you simply go WHAT; yes, they're part of the Internet Culture with Chinese Characteristics:
- Beware of the Panther
- Don't Move
- Fisherman by the River Farm
- Big Fire Bear
- City by the River
- Chinese Old Man
- Pig Climbing onto the Dinner Table
- Seat Belt
- Fish Swimming To and Fro
- Double Standards
Chinese forums tend to be on the lively side, in particular when it comes to images. Fed up of the nodding monkey of MSN (Windows Live Messenger) fame? Get ready for exploding monkeys, pictures of outright gorgeous young models, and impersonations of political leaders - some at massive resolutions or at vast image sizes.
I don't blame them: our language, after all, is an image language - we use characters, not letters of the alphabet (although we use them for Hanyu Pinyin romanisation). But then again, sticking a great, big picture of Miss China 2007 as your signature is a massive hog on bandwidth and slows down how fast a page loads. It could also be treading on that thin red line known as IPR.
So image heaven - or image hell? If you're like me, educated in Chinese universities, with textbooks full of characters for pages on end, those images look like a welcome break. But too much of a good thing creates quite the opposite effect. While not dismissing the case as "image hell", I would suggest our fellow netizens shrinking down that huge image.
Ding up my tiezi, banzhu!
If you've taken your Mandarin courses - unlearn them, for they may still see you more than confused inside many a Chinese forum. That's right: along with the lively names and lively images is some extremely lively forum language.
In charge of every forum is a banzhu (版主 or 斑竹), or moderator (the word banzhu actually means the owner of the forum). This banzhu is either directly elected by the forum population, or (more often than not) is appointed or got the post thanks to "unofficial business" (back-door discussions included).
To make a tiezi (帖子, post) sticky, Chinese netizens request it be dingzhi (顶置), or put at the top. That same word, ding (顶), is also as a sign of support - if you've a post with quite a number of follow-up messages all going ding, you know you've struck a right note with the community.
If you're a qianshui (潜水) kind of guy (or gal), chances are you surf around but you don't post a lot. If you're mad on posting, though, you're known as a big guanshui-er (灌水), literally "injecting water".
Looking for those really great posts? Go for the jinghua (精华) posts - literally "classic" posts. Since quite a number of Chinese forums operate on a virtual point system, those who post a lot of great posts will score higher awards.
Steer clear of troubled waters
If there are any two topics you'd want to keep out of, it would be the two please-keep-out Ps - politics and porn (the two just don't match, either). Not only is the Internet with Chinese Characteristics (with our Net Nammy of Infamy) hostile to the two Ps, but it can nearly always be a big sap at forums - if you're debating the latest party policy at a Mac forum, for example, expect a lot of blank stares and the inevitable "BUT WE THOUGHT THIS PLACE WAS NOT A PLACE TO TALK POLITICS!!!" post.
Porn on forums is rare, but there's a third unwelcome P at this - personal attacks. If you're calling a fellow forum member, a pighead or a tortoise egg (which is one of the most intense insults in the Chinese language), expect to be crushed by criticism and outright attacks aimed back at you. With the folks at the top going on about the "harmonious society" we're supposed to live in, personal attacks have just gotten that bit less "harmonious".
With every attack, of course, you get those who support you, but you also get those that have their two pence against you. Use your common sense - look left, look right, then cross - and always be alert. If you sense that what you said or are about to say could be inflammatory, retract it, reduce it, or just simply remove it.
Shun it when they shan it
Shan! Shan! Shan! That word - shan (删) in Chinese - means "delete". They actually had pictures (PhotoShopped, of course) of former Chinese leaders with a speech bubble going "we should shan these types of posts" (yours truly was witness to one of them in mid-2003), so you know that the shaning is alive and well in the PRC.
Shaning a post is often the ultimate death penalty for a hapless/intruding post, since it condemns the offending message into digital nonexistence. Less severe is life imprisonment for the message, or the feared fengsuo (封锁, literally "lock-down"), where replies (and at times, editing existing posts) are not allowed.
If you note that the shaning has gotten out of hand, it may be time to go out in that big, wide real world - forum wars tend to be on the confrontational, brutal and the most "unharmonious" sides. Either that, or some folks from the top are coming into town - "refreshing the rhetoric" in the wake.
It's time to refresh yourself and prepare for that Sunday to come. Next week on Mind the Gap Saturday, we continue our two-part series on the weird and wonderful wide web of forums in China. See you then.
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This article first appeared on Blognation.