China targets foreigners through expat websites

Internet Cafe

Internet Cafe

For many years, China have used paid contributors on internet forums to shape commentary in favour of China, and to belittle the west (China’s government hires people to distort web conversations).

These contributors are known in Chinese as wumao, and often create elaborate fraudulent identities. Now they have taken it a step further, by creating fictitious expat websites, and taking over established ones.

Controlling expat media is nothing new to China. They did it to Mark Kitto with his highly successful expat magazines (You’ll never be Chinese” by Mark Kitto), a magazine I used to write for. When the Chinese management forcibly seized it from him, they told me to write less favourably about the west, and more favourably about China. I refused, and moved on.

It was similar when I worked for eChinacities. My final story was edited to delete references to the fact that most of China’s “historical sites” are reconstructions, the originals having been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. My editor was extremely apologetic, explaining this was due to pressure from the Chinese censors, and that I should promote China more. I again declined, preferring to write truth than propaganda.

Since then, I have continued to contribute to the eChinacities Answers forum. While the eChinacities feature stories may be biased, the website itself is an invaluable source of information to those living in and visiting China. The forum also allowed expats to discuss problems they encounter in China, and to assist each other in dealing with these problems, and I was happy to assist with that as well.

More recently, however, the forums section has become increasingly saturated with the aforementioned wumaos. Many are openly declaring that they are wumaos that were previously banned from the site by simple virtue of the fact that they were wumaos. They are increasingly inciting hate against westerners, and the superiority of the Chinese over all other races on earth.

In the past, this has been the reason for them being banned from the site. However, now it is allowed, even though a clear breach of the terms and conditions of the site. What is not allowed is for any westerner to criticise the wumaos, or to complain about personal attacks from the wumaos. The new strategy is to delete comments criticising the wumaos, but to allow comments making personal attacks against the western contributors.

There is another class of wumaos, that are becoming increasingly active on expat forums. These are the wumaos that try to entrap expats. Not all are Chinese – there are even westerners that will entrap other expats. They will pretend to be a recruiter, or an an expat that has been in conflict in China and overcome it. While primarily targetting illegal teachers, they also record the names of anyone that complains about China, and China is not adverse to declaring a legal worker illegal if a complaint is made about a Chinese employer. Such expats are sought out as “troublemakers.”

An example of the deception these people use is a wumao on eChinacities calling himself icnif, who was previously banned, but now allowed to return. He constantly promotes himself as an illegal English teacher in China, and offers himself as proof that the Chinese authorities will protect illegal teachers. His advice to illegal teachers is to report the schools that are cheating them to the authorities. This is entrapment, as the authorities will immediately arrest the illegal teacher. However, many in China for the first time are vulnerable and desperate, and fall for such trickery (see one of icnif’s posts here).

Another is a contributor on eChinacities called Hulk, who was also banned, but allowed to return after a month. He is probably not Chinese, but appears to have had a lot of trouble with Chinese authorities in the past. He claims to have been an illegal teacher, and now an illegal American recruiter. He is allowed to recruit illegal teachers on the forum, even though others were rightfully banned for doing the same thing in the past. This is again entrapment. As soon as you give your details to Hulk, expect a visit from the immigration authorities. Foreigners are not allowed to work freelance and unregistered in China, as Hulk claims to do. Hulk’s troubles with Chinese authorities ended at the same time as he claimed to become a recruiter (see one of Hulk’s posts here).

Editor’s Note: One day after this article was published on China Daily Mail, Hulk claimed that he had suddenly packed up and returned to the USA, and ceased recruiting immediately (see Hulk’s farewell post here). A week later, he resumed his activities, and any attempts to expose him met with the warning being deleted, and the person making the warning be threatened with a ban from the site.

Editor’s Note: By September 2013, eChinacities Answer forum had become almost completely pro-China and anti-western, deleting any pro-western comments and banning long-term western posters on a daily basis. Xenophobic hysteria against the west became the norm on the site.

This is not the only website that this has happened to. Many other local websites operating in China also report that they are under increasing pressure to promote anti-western, pro-China propaganda on their sites, with the threat of being closed down if they refuse to comply with the Chinese directive. There is also pressure from the authorities to allow the entrapment. The general consensus amongst expats is that the CCP is calling the shots on this strategy, not the owners of the sites. China Daily Mail has also received such threats, but ignored them.

In some cases, the Chinese go to great measures to create entirely fictional identities to deceive expats. Take the case of ZSRenn website, claiming to be run by a ninth generation Australian expat in Zhongshan called Len Philp. After a few emails with Mr Philp, it is clear he is not Australian, but has tried to establish a complete fake identity to prove he is. The Facebook page and other “proof” of identity are clearly fake, but this seems of little concern to him.

All “news” items on the ZSRenn website have one source, and one source only – Chinese state media. The website itself is written largely in Chinese, and Mr Philp uses his self-perceived “credibility” as an expat to attack anything western, and to promote the glory of China.

That is not to say that the website does not have many positive points. Like eChinacities, it is an invaluable source of information about local events, restaurants and entertainment for expats living in China, and as such, I would recommend both sites to expats for these purposes.

However, one should be wary of the opinions expressed ,and advice offered, on such websites. Things aren’t always what they seem, especially in China.

Also Read: China’s new visa laws target expats

Categories: Media & Entertainment

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37 replies

  1. I am one member of ZSRenn and publish my thoughts and comments regarding China as an individual under my actual given name Len Philp. They do not reflect the thoughts of the other members of the site as a whole or as individuals! I am a 9th generation Australian and I am an Australian citizen. Although I have lived in China for 7 years I voted in the 2007 and 2010 elections and intend to vote in 2013

    I ask the readers of this article to come over and visit and have a look, as membership is not compulsory, although more features can be gained through membership. As it is a social interaction site and in it’s history has had it’s members spammed on multiple occasions. I have put safe guards in place to protect the members from spam. These safeguards are no more intrusive than joining Facebook and I feel are necessary to maintain a healthy social environment.

    In 2009 ZSRenn was founded, by accident, when Facebook was banned in China. I needed to have somewhere to display my pictures and words about China for friends and family to see. At the time the Ning platform, with its server in the USA, was free of charge and it was a relatively easy thing to do. Many friends had noticed what I was doing and asked if they could join. We needed a name! ZSRenn is short for Zhong Shan Ren sounded Jong Shan Ren or translated “People of Zhongshan.” as the URL for zsren was owned, and the guy wanted crazy money for it, we found ZSRenn. Since then ZSRenn has grown, however, I think it is still only rated as the 7,127,256 most popular site on the web. Local businesses asked if they could promote their bars and restaurants and we maintain a community feel for our small city.

    We had been members of other social websites in the past and found these to be places which were dominated by a small crowd of, usually men, whose attitude was “we were her first. who the F^*k are you.’ We did not want this to be the case for ZSRenn and moderate to that commitment. Usually to the derision of those that have been banned for such behavior.

    ZSRenn does operate within China, serving as a social hub for the people of Zhongshan and foreigners who visit. Our motto is “Zhongshan Ren come from China and the Globe. ZSRenn is here to bring all Zhongshanese closer together.” Being a social hub it remains apolitical and is moderated as such. The front page has the news feed from the China Daily Newspaper and from a teachers recruitment company. Many members inside either on their own page or in the groups that have formed, have news feeds from their particular country, in their own language. ZSRenn is not just for English speakers but for the multitude of languages that reside within our town. The most prominent being Chinese.


    • @ Len Philp: Playing loose and fast with the facts again.

      Make sure you always say something flattering to the king or you will be banned….several dozen members who were banned from this site did infact move to gzstuff and were offered the domain for free by asia media because they knew first hand how the owner of this site behaves.
      The shameless grovelling by the site to whatever offical may browse by is almost comical when at the same time it features blogs mocking the chinese people by well know local expats. Yes, I read the pool story and the bike story this week and felt ashamed that I was an expat at that moment.
      Yes, it does feature companies offering illegal teaching jobs, suspect driver’s licences and somehow guaranteering all types of visa circa july 2013.
      There is some good info on the page.

      The points raised by the author have been discussed at length in sleepy zhongshan and many do consider these issues suspicious at the very least. The behaviour of the host in the past would have had anyone give the 5 day stamp but The Teflon Renn somehow eludes it. Hmmmmmmm


    • When first read this blog of course i was attracted to the comments regarding myself and however returning to the blog and reading it again I have not been distracted by this and on reread I have noticed the information regarding wumaos.

      Do they exist? Maybe but in seven years I have never heard of anyone being removed from China by them. We do have people coming in from many places mainly Shanghai advertising their drivers licence and visa services. Married and on a residents permit and knowing that by studying the road rules it will only cost me 300 rmb for a licence, the high cost that they charge for these services is not attractive. I also don’t know many teachers who could afford these costs and businesses operating legally in China who send workers out organize visas before the departure of their foreign experts from their country of origin. It seems to me to be a fairly ill thought out plan of entrapment.

      I am not saying they don’t exist. They very well might! However again it boils down to should these people be working illegally in China. I would say it is a case of buyer beware!


    • @Len Philp: You are just a copy of and Just a bad copy of something good. Yay Chinese ideals!!


    • I am a personal freind of Len Philp in Zhongshan and can 100% vouch for the fact that he is an Australian and a damn fine gentleman too. I have spent many days and nights in Zhongshan with Len and I live in the same street as Len in Australia. To say that ZSRENN is controlled by chinese is ludacris. The China government needs to stop writing unfounded comments online. I realise that they are trying to propagandaise China but in fact all they are really doing is proving even more that they are liars, cheaters and scammers.

      Editor’s Note: I have highlighted some of your spelling and grammatical mistakes. These are common amongst Chinese writers of English. Hope it helps a little.


      • That’s nice, every child has an imaginary friend at one time or another. If you start taking the pills that the doctor suggested then that nasty little imp will go away.


  2. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.


  3. The accusations levelled here are serious but probably not far from the truth.


  4. Oh dear.

    China, China, China and how bad is it? You folks really need a wallpaper change. You need to live in the AMAZING kingdom for a while, and then you’d run off to be back in China again, promise.

    Despite everyone crucifying the communist China for being so bad, it is heaven, when compared to Thailand. Don’t believe? They say, seeing is believing. I say; “experiencing is believing”.


  5. Oh dear.

    China, China, China and how bad is it? You folks really need a wallpaper change. You need to live in the AMAZING kingdom for a while, and then you’d run off to be back in China again, promise.

    Despite everyone crucifying the communist China for being so bad, it is heaven, when compared to Thailand. Don’t believe? They say, seeing is believing. I say; “experiencing is believing”.


    • LOL, many people will tell you the opposite. That China is a living hell and Thailand is heaven.
      What’s one man’s meat is another man’s poison.
      I personally like Thailand better than PRC but don’t want to live in either. Hong Kong is the perfect place for me at the moment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Well, I’ve no doubt China pays people (both Chinese and foreign, although there are more Chinese at it) to glorify China and butt in whenever there is anything positive being said about the west. There are plenty of these “red flag carriers” on Youtube, for example, especially if you watch videos exemplifying the China-Hong Kong/Taiwan rocky relationship. The wumaos are all over the place, talking unbelievable sort of nonsense!

    But, that said, I have to admit that the west itself is not much better than China. I think 99% of coverage about China is exclusively negative. It’s almost pathetic how both sides are trying to downgrade each other. So I say, nothing surprising there. They are sort of quits…


    • I’d love to see a couple of links to China web sites running down the west?

      There are plenty of comments running down western men for being playboys (often deserved) but I have never seen a Chinese websites like this one focused on running down the west!

      Please give me a link or two!


      • Do you mean something like:
        oops, that’s one running down some guy just trying to follow instructions and earn a living


      • Oh for god’s sake!
        Why does there have to be a website like this one?
        There are enough articles in the Chinese media, blogs and comments on the Internet, news coverage with a clear anti-western bias. My Chinese friends, as well as my husband have shown me lots. As for those they call “wumaos”, it’s super easy to come across them on various English language platforms. As I said, Youtube is full of their comments.

        As for that Australian guy “taking the Mickey out of the boss”, I don’t see how it proves or disproves anything. The Aussie was a bit of a jerk to do it but, on the other hand, his example clearly shows, yet again, how all rules in China are quasi-official; they often essentially mean nothing and can be bent to please whoever is in the position of power at any given moment. Examples in that blog post further prove that.


      • @vikulya78 I also read those links. No surprises there. But I disagree with your comment about the taking the micky out of the boss article. I thought it showed a foreigner attempting to score points in an asinine battle with a guy who was just doing what he was told. There was no bending of the rules. It is easy to forget that we are guests in this country. We should behave like guests.
        The other links were amusing and sad.


      • @Skeppo: I can’t agree with you 100%. Unless that guy is lying, the swimming pool “boss” displayed peculiar selectiveness when it came to the rules. He mentions that there were others swimming without caps on at some point, yet they were not apprehended.
        Finally, a dead fish in the swimming pool is a lot worse in my book than a few human hairs 😛
        What I saw in that blog post is a rather typical manifestation of double standards that is so common in China.


  7. “I again declined, preferring to write truth than propaganda”

    are you kidding me?? How audacious and arrogant can you possibly be??

    Do everyone a favour-go to work for CNN or the BBC and see if they allow you to write anything pro-Chinese



    This borders on genius:
    Please leave your details so we can check your visa status, length of stay and assess whether you have been working illegally.


  9. Reblogged this on China Daily Mail and commented:

    In July, China Daily Mail warned about expat websites targeting expats. Unfortunately, this situation has deteriorated, with one of our favourite websites, eChinacities, going over to “the dark side.” For that reason, we are reposting this article.


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