Defending the Authoritarian Regime Online: China's 'Voluntary Fifty-Cent Army'

The China Quarterly, no. 224 (2015): 1006-1025. DOI: 10.1017/S0305741015001216

29 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2018


English Abstract: Recent studies on internet politics in China have gone beyond the once dominant control–liberalization perspective and directed intellectual attention to the varieties of online activism. Based on extensive in-depth online ethnographic work, this project explores the pluralization of online expression in Chinese cyberspace. Following a constituency of internet users who identify themselves as the “voluntary fifty-cent army,” the paper explores how these users acquire and consolidate their identity and combat criticism that targets the authoritarian regime. Analysis of the confrontational exchanges between the “voluntary fifty-cent army” and their opponents suggests that a perspective that goes beyond state censorship and regime-challenging activism is required in order to gain a better understanding of online expression in China. Close examination of why and how internet users may voluntarily defend the authoritarian regime also reveals how the dynamics in online discourse competition may work to the authoritarian regime's advantage.

Chinese Abstract: 近期对于中国网络政治的研究已经逐渐超脱了曾占主导地位的“自由化-控制”视角, 开始越来越关注网络行动主义的多样性。本文基于广泛而深入的网络志研究, 探讨中国网络空间表达的多元化问题。通过跟踪观察一群自称为“自带干粮的五毛” (简称“自干五”) 的网民, 本文试图探究他们如何获得并强化“自干五”的虚拟身份认同并与网络上批评现政权的话语进行论战。这种“自干五”群体与其对手之间的言辞交锋和话语竞争表明对于中国网络表达的理解不应该局限于国家审查与体制挑战的视野。仔细分析网民为何及如何自发维护中国的现政权也有助于我们了解多元化的网络话语竞争在何种情况下会对当前的威权体制产生有利的结果。

Suggested Citation

Han, Rongbin, Defending the Authoritarian Regime Online: China's 'Voluntary Fifty-Cent Army'. The China Quarterly, no. 224 (2015): 1006-1025. DOI: 10.1017/S0305741015001216, Available at SSRN:

Rongbin Han (Contact Author)

University of Georgia ( email )

322 Candler Hall
Athens, GA Georgia 30602-6254
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics