The government encourages you to send positive text messages


Economic Daily
February 12, 2010

You’re not supposed to send dirty jokes by mobile phone in China, but don’t worry: service providers have some other great, inspiring content that has the government’s enthusiastic support.

Today’s Economic Daily includes a short article on “red snippets” (红段子)* the positive, uplifting text messages that are now being rolled out on a national scale after a successful five-year trial in Guangdong and a few other places.

These messages have a dual purpose: taking the place of the dirty jokes and mocking attacks on the establishment that are the focus of the latest mobile content clean-up campaign is only one half of their role. Officials from the government and major industry players are also talking about using positive SMS to build up “the spirit of Chinese culture for an Internet age,” a sort of soft power against the encroachment of vulgar American pop culture.

Xie Zhenhua, the China Mobile Communications Association official who is the public face of the project, says they’re the modern equivalent of Tang poetry or the Three Character Classic. One example cited by most articles was forwarded more than 150,000 times the year it was created: “China’s rise and the people’s prosperity: we work hand in hand toward that glorious day.”

A front-page feature story on the “red snippets” also ran in this week’s Southern Weekly. Here are some excerpts:

“Red snippets” are coming! A high-profile push by government ministries and large mobile operators is spreading a wave of red over mobile phone screens across the country.

A symposium titled “The Red Snippet Phenomenon: The Direction of the Spirit and Industry of Chinese Culture in the Internet Age” held on the eve of the Lunar New Year, opened with this intent. The close attention paid to it can be understood from a list of participants: vice-minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology Xi Guohua, SARFT deputy director Hu Zhanfan, China Mobile vice president Li Yue, China Unicom vice president Jiang Zhengxin, and China Telecom vice-president Sun Kangmin.

This is the first visible, collective action from the major departments since the State Council issued a timetable for integration of the three networks.

At the symposium, in addition to issuing the book The “Red Snippet” Phenomenon: The Spirit of Chinese Culture in the Internet Age, Xie Linzhen, executive deputy chairman of the China Mobile Communications Association, which organized the forum, made a proposal for the participating work units to set up an Internet Civilization (“Red Snippet”) Industry Development Center

The term “red snippets” was originally meant to describe a form of SMS distinct from “yellow snippets” (dirty jokes) and “grey snippets” (satiric or mocking jokes).

This definition received an upgrade at the hands of Xu Long, president of China Mobile’s Guangdong Mobile subsidiary. He wrote: “‘Red snippets’ are progressive, thoughtful, and informative text messages, concise in form and healthy in content, and whose message is inspiring.”

It was at Guangdong Mobile that awareness of “red snippets” first began to develop.

Since 2005, Guangdong Mobile has held “red snippet” composition competitions for five years running. Partnering with Southern Metropolis Daily through direct and indirect advertising, the company published award-winning entries in a daily Red Snippet column and rewarded the winning creators with lavish prizes.

“Sent in large numbers, ‘red snippets’ will become public opinion that will have positive effects on the culture and thinking of mainstream society and will gradually redress the unhealthy information contained in dirty jokes and mocking attacks,” said Huang Yuesheng, standing committee member of the Jiangmen party committee. Jiangmen’s “red snippets,” he said, were a beneficial attempt to seize the center of the mainstream cultural map.

At the Red Snippet Phenomenon symposium on February 4, Xi Guohua said that “red snippets” must occupy the high ground of mobile phones and the internet.

In 2008, the China Mobile Communications Association began to plan The Red Snippet Phenomenon: The Spirit of Chinese Culture in the Internet Age, which would establish a foundation for the entire project.

The value the book places on “red snippets” is far more than just reclaiming the land currently occupied by “yellow snippets” and “grey snippets.” The publishers have positioned it to recreate the spirit of Chinese culture.

The publisher, People’s Publishing House, publishes mainly Marxist classics, party and state historical documents, party plans, policies, and political courses for popular consumption, monographs on party history and development, academic works on politics, philosophy, economics, history, law, culture, and international affairs, biographies of major figures, and reference materials and text books in philosophy and the social sciences. It has been called the nation’s press.

“Red snippets” have been compared to American blockbusters, Japanese anime, and Korean TV dramas, for “Foreigners meet and talk about the weather. Chinese people meet and trade anecdotes.” Xie Linzhen said, “In the past there were the 300 poems of the Tang. Today, there is SMS and red snippets.” They have also been compared to China’s Three Character Classic, because that work is China’s earliest example of “red snippets.”

“Red snippets” have also been given a historic mission. Xie, one of the editors of The Red Snippet Phenomenon. said at the symposium, “The ‘red snippet’ SMS culture formed by the millions of participants is the very best way to record and sustain the rejuvenation to prosperity of Chinese culture.”

Cheng Lu, CPPCC member and Vice Chairman and Secretary General of the 9th Executive Committee of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, said that although the Chinese economy is now second in the world, and although its mobile phone userbase numbers 730 million and it has 80 million more Internet users that the US has inhabitants, “we have no right to speak. Two-thirds of the data traffic on the global Internet is American. We have a pitiful 0.01. The Internet is held in the hands of the Americans. For a lot of information that goes on the Internet, Americans look it over first before it goes on to its destination.” One aim of the red snippet project is to solve domestic problems, including nonsense like “Jia Junpeng, your mother is calling you home for dinner!” and other malicious parodies. A second aim, said Chen, is “so that our young people do not unwittingly fall into a trap set by an invading American culture.”

His aspirations can be seen in an article published in the Association’s journal, China Mobile Communications. In a report on the China-Japan-Korea Mobile Internet Summit held in Seoul, Association Secretary-General Ni Jianzhong presented a speech titled, “Han Culture Community: A Basic Outline for Mobile Internet Development in East Asia.”

The The Red Snippet Phenomenon says, “We ought to regain that cultural self-confidence and immense influence of the glorious period of the Han and Tang to create a surging culture history for the Internet era.”

The book’s introduction quotes a line from the song “The Chinese Language” by Taiwan pop group S.H.E.: “The whole world is learning Chinese. The language of Confucius is becoming international. The whole world is speaking Chinese. May the whole world listen carefully to what we are saying.”

A Red New Culture Movement

Will the development of “red snippets” be sustainable? For Guangdong Mobile, at least, there is no doubt about it. The secret is hidden on the cover of The Red Snippet Phenomenon: “A letter from home is worth thousands in gold; a text message costs just ten cents.”*

This paper obtained operating information that showed that the profit to China Mobile from red snippets is not insignificant.

Economic benefit derives from the large number of people participating. Statistics from Guangdong’s “red snippet” activities show that the number of entries exceeded 50 million; 17 million Guangdong Mobile users have taken part. In addition, more than 1.5 billion “red snippet” text messages have been forwarded in Guangdong Province, 800 million by Guangdong Mobile customers.

According to data released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, SMS service for mobile users is growing geometrically. In 2000, just 1 billion SMS messages were sent nationwide; by 2004, this had climbed to 217 billion, a factor of 217 in just five years. In 2006, this number had reached a new high of 430 billion.

The news media reported that one such message, “China’s rise and the people’s prosperity: we work hand in hand toward that glorious day,” was forwarded more than 150,000 times, becoming the “awesomest” red snippet of the year.

In 2006, Guangdong Mobile’s “Thoughts into Sound” program expanded red snippet SMS to multimedia applications including MMS, CRBT, and animation. It launched an open portal ( registered users could publish their works and everyone could vote on their favorites. It also rolled out a creativity competition that encouraged participation by waiving data fees on uploads and offering creators a 50/50 split on download revenues and 10-20% of the telecom fees on forwarded messages.

This revenue model brought popular participation to red snippets and promoted value-added services like MMS and CRBT among ordinary users.

Zhong Chaojun offered the following analysis: The cleverness of this service model lies in the fact that it transformed the sharing and download IP revenue agreement that China Mobile used to have with a few music and SMS service providers. It attracted creators through MMS and CRBT competitions and avoided the service provider middlemen to sign rights agreements with the creators themselves. In this way, it increased its own share of the revenues, enriched its library of MMS and CRBT content through the contests, and reduced the gap between the general public and MMS and CRBT through positive word of mouth.

The online creative competition was launched on October 18, 2006, and when it concluded on March 30, 2007, it had received 3,155,438 MMS, CRBT, and animations, had more than 7 million user votes, and had 53 million first-level transmissions.

Guangdong Mobile claimed that by the end of 2009, the competitions had produced 448 weekly and monthly winners, more than 693 people who had won prizes greater than 500 yuan, 380 creators who had won prizes greater than 1,000 yuan, 85 who had won more than 5,000 yuan, and 27 who had won more than 10,000 yuan.


Following Xie Linzhen’s proposal of an Internet Civilization (“Red Snippet”) Industry Development Center, officials in attendance from MIIT and SARFT expressed their support. On February 8, as interviews for this article were in progress, urgent meetings were already going on, and Xie himself was “too busy to eat.”

Work that had once been undertaken by local governments and mobile operators had been elevated to central government levels, a likely consequence of developments in the Mobile Website Cleanup Campaign.

On February 4, Xi Guohua said that the first step in cleaning up mobile websites had been accomplished. By the end of January, the three major mobile operators had suspended 460 service promotion partners and had closed down or blocked 19,000 obscene websites.

At the first Central Working Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility held in Beijing on November 3, Li Rongrong, the director of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council, said, “Central enterprises must have a highly strategic understanding corporate social responsibility.”

China Mobile Communications Association Operations Director Duan Qinping explained that one of the reasons the Association published The Red Snippet Phenomenon was to show off the work it had done in those areas.

According to the central government, shutting down websites is actually only the first of three steps to be taken in 2010.

At a national work conference on industrial and commercial administration held on December 24, 2009, State Administration of Industry and Commerce director Zhou Bohua emphasized the major role of Internet oversight among the Administration’s market supervisory work in 2010.


  1. What is translated here as “red snippet” could also be “red anecdote” or “red joke.” “Snippet” was used because, as the example included in the post demonstrates, many of these text messages are neither jokes nor anecdotes.
  2. The first half, 家书抵万金, is a line from a poem by Tang dynasty poet Du Fu.
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