The most vibrant internet discussion platform in China is named after Li Yi, an average footballer who has now retired.
This is not because of Li’s popularity, mind you. The Li Yi tieba, one of the many discussion boards on Baidu, only sprang into life in 2004 when Chinese fans flocked to poke fun at him after he opined on TV that “I dribble like [Thierry] Henry”. It became one of the most notable “internet events” (i.e. incidents that attract exceptionally high online attention) of the year.
This popularity transformed the previously obscure Li Yi tieba into what is now known as the Diba (di means king in Mandarin, a tribute to “King Henry” but also an inference to its unmatched popularity). With more than 20 million registered users, Diba fans have been responsible for stoking up some of the most memorable squabbles in Chinese cyberspace. “When Diba marches to battle, not an inch of grass can grow,” their war chant boasts.
Last week the Diba army was on the offensive again. The target this time: Taiwanese independence. The attack was planned for 7pm on January 20. Come D-day millions of Chinese netizens collectively scaled the Great Firewall and attacked the Facebook accounts of independence-leaning Taiwan politicians.
The Facebook page of Tsai Ing-wen, the island’s president-elect, was bombarded with more than 50,000 comments in less than 24 hours. Many of these warned Tsai and her party against declaring independence. Various Facebook accounts of Taiwan’s media such as Apple Daily and Sanli News were also swarmed. The hashtag “Diba’s crusade to Facebook” soon topped keywords on both Sina Weibo and WeChat.
Taiwan internet users were at first irritated by the sudden surge of mainland visitors. But they then began to see the funny side of the trolls. The web editor of Sanli, for example, was highly praised when he directed some lost Diba (who wrongly crashed into Sanli’s entertainment pages) to its political pages. The Taiwan TV operator’s social media platform added several thousand followers as a result.
Indeed, many netizens from both sides seem to have agreed Diba’s invasion had ended with reconciliation. “What a cross-strait cultural exchange. Been great fun,” one Taiwan netizen wrote. “See you soon, come more often,” said another.
The Diba itself has since been flooded with triumphant messages. WiC’s favourite: “The Great Firewall is not put in place to protect China’s internet security. Instead, it is about preventing the army of Chinese internet users from invading the rest of the world.”
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