Over the last three years, three and a half million mobile users have
created over 14 million “red” SMS messages (“红段子”), which have been downloaded
and passed on over 100 million times, according to this Xinhua article about Guangdong’s “red SMS culture” (红色短信文化) (in Chinese), found via Zhejiang Online. “Healthy” red SMS have been solicited by China Mobile Guangdong for the last three years in an effort to counteract “yellow” SMS (of a sexual nature), “black” SMS (characterized in the article as “malicious satire), and “gray” SMS (doesn’t say what this means). A Xinhua reporter recently went to investigate some of the people who have been creating and circulating the red SMS, to hear their stories and understand what lies behind this “healthy” movement.
Here are some of the stories from the article, paraphrased:
Spreading warmth and kindness is what the red SMS do. “With someone worrying about you the journey is not a wandering, with someone thinking of you the days aren’t lonely, with someone caring about you the years are not lost. Don’t let fate brush by you, don’t let your dreams burst like bubbles. Hope you have more happiness than others!” This was the red SMS received by the GM of China Mobile Guangdong’s Dongguan office, sent by a colleague, one day when he was on his long commute home and feeling tired. He had just been promoted to GM of the Dongguan office and his wife was still living in their old home, over 1000 km away. His son was in a third place, and the GM could only make it home once a week. The travel was long and tiring, but when he received the red SMS above he laughed aloud and felt better knowing that a colleague cared enough about him to send it.
[Note: It’s not only management who are using red SMS to feel more connected.] “‘Red SMS’ help smooth my communication with my son and allow me to peacefully work in Dongguan,” said a construction worker. “Now that I’ve left home I can’t take care of my son and I feel really guilty about it. Then one time I saw some educational red SMS on the company’s website. I downloaded them and changed them to suit my own way of talking, then sent them to my son. On the weekends I can even go to the China Mobile service center to make free calls and chat with my son. It makes me happy.”
When the Jiangmen city branch office asked for red SMS in praise of Jiangmen, they received over 100,000 SMS from 80,000 Jiangmen people, spread across 167 different countries or regions of China. [Note: Jiangmen county is one of the main sources of diasporic Chinese in the last several decades, and civic pride got expressed in poetry and history via SMS.]
People are also expressing their everyday concerns via the red SMS. For instance, one high school student composed a red SMS about China’s environmental problems. “By the roadside white plastic flutters, in the restaurant used chopsticks pile up; outside the window, dirty paper amasses.” In concert with a municipal environmental office, China Mobile Guangdong’s third annual red SMS contest enlisted citizens to create and disseminate environmentally themed SMS.
Establish a healthy mobile phone culture. China already has over 500 million mobile users. SMS are already part of our everyday communication methods. People are creating all kinds of SMS; some are healthy but there are also “yellow SMS,” “black SMS,” “gray SMS,” and so on. Are there more good messages or bad ones? In addition to blocking bad messages by technical means, China Mobile also encourages users to create healthy content for messaging, in order to lead people toward positive expression, toward the pursuit of truth, kindness, and beauty. SMS are inherently neutral, but if gray SMS outweigh red SMS and become more prominent in people’s thoughts, the city itself will become grayer, according to a Jiangmen city official.