It was a strange day on China-centric Twitter. Within a few hours on September 14, a seemingly endless stream of parody accounts of a pro-Chinese Communist Party group called Qiao Collective came into existence.

A parody account had already existed for Qiao Collective for several months. Diao Collective, which joined Twitter in June, gained thousands of followers in a matter of days. But by the end of yesterday, Diao Collective had been joined by the Jiao, Niao, Piao, Xiao, Ciao, Liao, Miao, Tiao, and Biao Collectives.

The earliest of the accounts to appear on Twitter yesterday, Jiao Collective, using the Chinese character for foot (腳), poked fun at a recent incident in which the Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, Liu Xiaoming, “liked” pornography from his official Twitter account. Three accounts were themed around animals, with Miao Collective themed around cats, Niao Collective themed around birds, and Xiao Collective, using the character for small (小), themed around small animals.

Others are harder to pin down. Liao Collective’s description on Twitter proclaims, “paleo-Capella arrives from state-sponsored social media, or something.” Tiao Collective is “a grassroots media collective of diaspora Chinese writers, artists & researchers devoted to jumping to conclusions. Our words: ‘you jump, I jump’.”

As Miao Collective put it yesterday night, “We are in Spiderverse territory now — how many of us are there?” Piao Collective then asked, “Do we do the Voltron thing now?”, referencing the cartoon series about a Transformer-like combining robot. Niao Collective responded by posting a picture of the Spiderman pointing at Spiderman meme showing all the different collectives.

There are even duplicates of parody accounts. There seem to be at least two Ciao Collectives, one of which dates to 2017 and seems to be a travel website unrelated to the present explosion of -iao collectives. There are three Piao Collectives, one of which refers to “floating” (飘) and says in its description, “All things floating!” Another Piao Collective uses the character for “glance” (瞟) and describes itself as “a grassroots media collective of diaspora Chinese writers, artists & researchers devoted to celebrating side-eyes and promoting stone cold sarcasm.” The third Piao collective uses the character for “visiting a prostitute” (嫖).

A Liao Collective using the character for “to treat” (療) is devoted to “Tracking recent developments in clinical trials for #COVID19 & other viral diseases.” And there are three Jiao Collectives, two of which refer to “feet” (腳), and the other of which refers to “banana” (蕉), in their names.

There are Taiwanese Hokkien parody accounts, too. In this category there is Siàu Collective, which uses the Taiwanese Hokkien pronunciation of “crazy” (瘋), and an account called 洨 Collective, which is pronounced the same and is Taiwanese Hokkien for “semen.”

What Started It All

I have to confess: I may have played an indirect role in the proliferation of these collectives. Qiao Collective, which was formed last year, seemed to be a response to the formation of the Lausan Collective, a left-wing group of writers and artists who came together in 2019 to support the protest movement in Hong Kong. While Lausan called for Hong Kong self-determination from a leftist standpoint, Qiao caused waves on Twitter because of its strident defense of the actions of the Chinese government, in seeking to put down the protests.

Qiao’s Twitter presence prompted much outrage on China Twitter, but also a great deal of mockery. This did not prevent Qiao from growing to over 27,000 followers on Twitter in just over a year.

In June, I wrote a critique of Qiao for New Bloom, itself another vaguely collective-like entity. New Bloom was formed in 2014 after the Sunflower Movement, similarly calling for Taiwanese self-determination from a left-wing perspective; having been a participant in the movement as a student, I was among the founding members. I’m also part of Lausan.

Part of my motivation in writing such a critique was the sense that a growing number of ethnic Chinese diaspora were awakening to left ideas through online spaces such as Twitter — but they were often attracted to groups supporting the actions of the Chinese state. Still, as a parallel response, there has been a rise of left publications or collectives that aspire to transnational perspectives on Asia.

Transnational versus Pro-China politics

In July, a piece by E. Tammy Kim in the Columbia Journalism Review titled “Transnationally Asian” pointed to Lausan, New Bloom, and the Southeast Asia-focused New Naratif as parallel publications that sought to cover Asia from a transnationally leftist perspective. After the publication of the piece, others raised parallels with China-focused leftist journal Chuang, the Mekong Review, and newly formed collectives such as Suara Peranakan, consisting of progressive Chinese Indonesians, and Korea-focused Heung Coalition.

During this period, some new groups defending the Chinese government also formed, such as the Dongfeng Collective. It also proved a particularly controversial blow-up on China Twitter last month after the Qiao Collective joined the Progressive International, which describes itself as “an international organization uniting and mobilizing progressive left-wing activists and organizations” — which includes both New Bloom and Lausan as member organizations.

Either way, the rise of these numerous collectives or collective-like groupings has reached the point of self-parody. This is the way political discussions seem to be held today — particularly where contemporary Asian politics are concerned — as observed in the #MilkTeaAlliance phenomenon, consisting of Twitter users from Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan engaging in an Internet meme war with China-supporting accounts.


Photo Credit:Reuters / TPG Images

Protesters hold signs of the Hong Kong-Thailand-Taiwan network (Milk Tea Alliance) during a rally to demand the government to resign, to dissolve the parliament, and to hold new elections under a revised constitution, in Bangkok, Thailand, August 16, 2020.

The parodying may be related to internet discourse regarding Hong Kong specifically. There was a similar phenomenon after the 2014 launch of Stand News, as a spiritual successor to the Hong Kong news site House News, with the rise of parody accounts of Stand News on Facebook such as AT Field News, Bone News, Club News, Theatre News, and Cemetery News — some of which are active even now, six years later.

I don’t know if the revolution will be televised — or if it will be live-tweeted. But there’s a good chance it will be reflected in parody accounts on Twitter. To riff off of something Mao once said, “Let a hundred collectives bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend!”

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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