mama troll

The Mandarin expression for internet trolling — visiting sites, but not actually participating — is scuba diving or 潜水. Last night, I heard it used in the context of parental supervision. Apparently, there are mothers who have requested that their children give them their qq, we chat, and other social networking account passwords so that they can supervise them. The person describing the mother in question joked she was as “mama troll (潜水妈妈)”.

When I mentioned that I found this behavior highly disturbing, my friends responded that yes, it was a bit excessive, but what could you do? Children are an extension of their mothers, and if I didn’t understand this cultural root, I couldn’t understand Chinese mothers.

What’s more, another friend added, many of these mothers have nothing to do. They sit around and worry about who their husbands may or may not be seeing. They chat with friends and imagine all sorts of situations that their daughters might encounter. The most worrisome problem would be young love, especially because young love adversely affected grade point averages.

I then did another of my highly selective surveys, where I told this story to friends and cab drivers and the odd waitress to get their take. I asked if they thought it possible that a mother would go to such extremes? The 100% answer: yes. Most agreed that this kind of supervision was excessive. However, they pointed out that many mothers worry about their children, especially their daughters and so the concern was natural. Others remembered that when they were younger, their friends’ mothers might read their diaries for similar reasons.

I then asked why didn’t the children just sign up for another email or we chat account? Here the responses varied — maybe the children lived at home and their mothers paid for their cell phone and internet access; maybe the children always did what their mother asked them to do, and; maybe it was just easier to put up with the intrusive supervision than it was to set up independent accounts.

After all, another friend pointed out, as long as a child is living with her mother, her options are limited because sometimes teachers will request parents to increase supervision over a child. “It’s a conspiracy,” she then said half jokingly, “Teachers and mothers work together to make sure that children do what they should.”

History as Farce

As part of our book club discussion (see previous entry), Liu Jingwen handed out copies of a recent blog entry by Yang Hengjun (杨恒均) entitled “Ten Years of Cultural Revolution and Ten Years of the Internet: Where Do We Go From Here? (十年文革与十年互联网:我们向何处去?)” In the rest of this entry, I will translate some of the more interesting passages from Yang’s (much longer) essay. I hope this synopsis + citations will contribute to understanding about historic continuities between Maoism and what followed.

Yang Hengjun is interested in comparing the first thirty years (1949-1979) and second thirty years (1979-2009) of the People’s Republic because he believes there are startling similarities between these two eras. He is particularly interested in the comparing the ten years of the Cultural Revolution with the ten years of the internet in China.


互 联网十年里,也是以清一色的青年人为主,在虚拟的空间进行独立思考和自由言说。这时期的知识分子们一边从文革和上个世纪八十年代末的事件中吸取了教训,打 骨子里认同了沉默是金的理念;一边从改革开放中收获真金白银,忙于改善自己的生活,从物质和精神上都向官员靠拢。结果,青年人主导思考和言论成为十年文革和十年互联网最大的共同之处,同时也彰显了我们民族的困境:急需知识分子们启蒙和引导青年的时候,思考国家前途和民族命运的担子竟然落在了涉世未深的青年人的肩膀上。

The ten years of the Cultural Revolution was a rare period of “free airing of views” and “democracy” in the 60 year history of the People’s Republic, indeed in the entire history of China. The key players were young people (even high school students) as a majority of intellectuals had already learned their lesson from the 1957 anti-rightism movement and the majority who hadn’t learned their lesson were beaten early on.

Young people again have been the key players during the ten years of the internet, conducting independent thought and free speech in virtual space. On the one hand, this era’s intellectuals have learned their lesson from the Cultural Revolution and the events of the late 80s, and believe in their bones that silence is golden. On the other hand, they have gotten rich during reform, keep busy improving their lives, and their material and spiritual interests overlap with those of officials. Thus, the primary importance of young people in leading thinking and debate is the greatest similarity between the ten years of the Cultural Revolution and the ten years of the internet. This also shows our people’s predicament: at the time when young people desperately need the enlightment and direction of intellectuals,  the responsibility for contemplating the country’s future and the people’s fate has been unexpectly thrust onto their inexperienced shoulders. Continue reading