Thursday, March 1, 2012

Chinese Netizen’s “Occupy Obama Movement” on Google Plus

Last night I heard from friends on Sina Weibo that Google Plus was unblocked and there is a Chinese carnival on Barack Obama’s G+ page, where we can do our favorite online activities such as 抢沙发 (”occupying sofa”-being the first in the comment roll ), and刷屏 (”swiping screen”-creating a sea of comments that flood the whole page). I immediately went to my G+ account, which I haven’t used since I opened it last year, and added Obama to my circle of “family”. Wow, under the first post I saw on Obama’s page dated Feb.24, 90% of the 500 comments are in Chinese, and a significant amount of the rest are in Chinglish. I have not seen a virtual party so wild since the April of 2010 when we climbed over the Great Firewall to follow the twitter of Aoi Sola (Japanese AV star).

BBC actually reported on this phenomenon already, but its misinterpretation of the Chinese comments has itself become a source of amusement for Chinese netizens. The BBC article says, “they talked about occupying the furniture and bringing snacks and soft drinks.” Obviously the reporters had no idea what “occupying sofa” means in Chinese Internet Language, which is the frontier of linguistic innovation. The folks at China Internet Watch tried to help out and explained:“occupying sofa” is a common behavior often in online forums trying to be the first to leave a comment or reply. Imagine many friends visit you at your house, the first ones arrived can take the sofa (which is more comfortable), those who are a bit late have to take the chairs, and the ones come last have only the floor to sit on”.

But most of my friends found the misunderstanding so funny that they excitedly gathered more people to occupy the Obama page and say more nonsense to further confuse the poor translators of Western media.

Anyway I feel that some of the Chinese comments are so good that they deserve good English translation. Here are some of my favorite comments:

-Good afternoon Mr. President, I just come here to chill.

-Don’t fight with me, this is the last available space! Advertisers interested in renting this space please contact me.

-How to tell if a girl is a virgin by looking at her thigh…

-The one above me is a very very bad person.

-People behind me, keep your line straight!

-For Sale, Canon 60D+17-55mm f2.8 Lense…

-Tour group from Huadong University blowing by.

-This is such a historical moment! Have you guys had dinner?

-Mr. President, I’d like to order some food. The people behind me will pay.


I was so inspired that I decided to take advantage of the publicity there and promote my own business. I wrote, 办证刻章 13658579367(you probably saw my ads before on street-corners, just helping people make diplomas, identity cards and official seals.)

There are serious political comments also. Some netizens requested Obama to talk to our president Mr. Hu about giving up Internet censorship and releasing dissidents, some warned the US not to mess up with China in Southern China Sea, some demanded that the US pay back the debt it owed to China (referring to the US treasure bonds that China is holding). Some argued with each other about whether democracy is good for China. Some were picking fights with 五毛党 (“50-cent-party”, used by pro-democracy netizens to call people who they think are serving the authoritarian government) or 带路党 (“invasion-guide-party”, used by nationalistic netizens to call people who they think would be the local guide for western invaders).

Of course the English-speaking readers were very confused. But some found it interesting to communicate with Chinese people. Ali Utlu is one of the first Western readers who used google translator to start an uneasy conversation with Chinese netizens on Obama’s page. Ali Utlu has become an Internet celebrity in China overnight. He now has more than 800 Chinese friends in his circle thanks to his unintentional participation in the “Occupy Obama Movement”, which he himself found hard to believe.

By the way, I think Google should grab this chance and seriously launch G+ promotion targeted at Chinese people, it can finally become the only international player in Chinese social media market, which is still not accessible for Facebook or twitter.

The first unblocking of an international platform (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress etc. still blocked) is certainly meaningful for the Chinese Internet, which is confined by“Internet Sovereignty”. But overall Chinese netizens participating in the “Occupy Obama Movement” just wanna have fun. My girlfriend and myself spent two nights browsing through those comments and could not stop giggling. Maybe we are just silly and crazy, but if in your whole life you are also always told “you are not allowed to do this to do that”, or “this place is forbidden”, or “this is saved for the authority”, or “we have to ‘stabilize’ you for the sake of society”, then you might understand the simple joy of being able to gather for no particular purpose and do the most nonsensical things in front of one of the most powerful figures in the world.

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