Herald K. woke to the sound of a bus stopping outside his window. He sat up and looked at the alarm clock on the plastic stool near his bed.
“Fuck”, he said to himself, “it’s already 7.” He was supposed to wake up at 6:30. He puts on some random trousers and a shirt from the laundry basket and rushes off.
Luckily for Herald, he arrives at the office just in time. He opens the door. then marches to his cubicle. From the window, he enjoys a great view of the Huangpu River at dawn, when the smoke from the chimneys of chemical plants on the other side of the river mixes with the sunrise and forms red clouds. Such images overwhelm him with coughs and, occasionally, patriotic pride.
Herald K works as a ‘fifty-cent-er’ in one of the facilities of the Troll and Internet Harmonization Division under the Department of Propaganda. In essence, he posts pro-Government comments and deletes anti-Government comments on the Internet for a living.
In his cubicle, he looks through the BBC homepage to update himself on world news. He relies on the BBC for information that could be twisted into up-to-date pro-Government spin. The news that the police in Hong Kong used pepper spray and tear gas on demonstrators in the “Occupy Central” movement excites him, for this issue provides, in the technical jargon, ‘many materials to spin.’
As an experienced ‘fifty-cent-er’, Herald develops a two-step approach. He disguises himself as an ordinary citizen and asks the activists what happened. After they produce the facts, he randomly shouts out some pro-Government slogans, which inevitably provokes them. Under this approach, his scoreboard hits 50, or 25 RMB within 2 hours.
The only benefit of working in the public sector is the three-hour lunch break. Since the Department adopted a new Holistic Management Strategy, everyone in the office knows that the boss only arrives after the break, and leaves at 5:30.
The boss has one of the most onerous tasks dictated by the Strategy: the maintenance of friendly relationships through banqueting and partying with other Divisions. Such events often involve philosophical discussions, which extend beyond midnight, and end when she wakes up in a hotel room with one of the other male Division-leaders lying beside her.
The boss is a woman in her 50s who wears a custom-made black jacket in winter. She wears a yellow/orange scarf with stripes and spots, which seems to have been stolen from her daughter. Occasionally, she carries a luxury handbag, with the crocodile logo pointing in the wrong direction.
What really highlights her superiority is not her appearance, but her unique diet. Unlike ordinary humans, she feasts not on food, but on others’ praise and flattery. To obtain her nourishment, she calls a meeting, in which she forces everyone to praise her. As a result, the meetings become prolonged, for those at the end often have to search very deep in their soul for praise that hasn’t already been said.
Having fed the boss, Herald immediately returns to work, for he is sure that the ‘fifty-cent-ers’ in other facilities are getting ahead of him in neutralizing targets about ‘Occupy Central’.
However, much to his relief, other ‘fifty-cent-ers’ have been slow to react to updates on ‘Occupy Central’, and there are still many posts left for Herald to harvest. The smell of money quickly makes him a prisoner of his own greed, an automaton with nothing but two functions: spinning positive messages and deleting negative ones. Had there not been a temporary break down of power in the office, he would certainly have become the first martyr to die spinning pro-Government messages.
Then Herald realizes that it’s already 9 pm, and he has to hurry for the last bus of the day. He looks at his screen, which tells him that he has managed to post or delete 200 Internet comments today. Knowing that he is one step closer in saving enough money to quit this job, he feels liberated. After all, as the Germans used to say, ‘Arbeit macht frei’.