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Five Stripe Boy (Chinese: 五道杠少年) is a nickname given to the Chinese schoolboy Huang Yibo who was photographed with a five-stripe badge on his uniform for the youth organization “Young Pioneers in China.” With the conventional rank order maxing out at three stripes, Huang’s five-stripes insignia quickly caught the attention of Chinese netizens, who turned the boy into a mythical hero with tongue-in-cheek comments.
Photographs of Huang Yibo were originally published online in early May 2011 as promotional materials by the Young Pioneers, a primary school branch of the Communist Youth League. In the photographs, Huang is portrayed as an exemplary role model of student leadership, as he can be seen signing documents, presiding over meetings and visiting the elderly patients at a hospital.
The pictures quickly spread on the Chinese web due to the obviously staged nature of the photo-op and the resemblance to cliche news photographs of government officials.
The Young Pioneers
The Young Pioneers in China is a state-run youth organization for children of 6 to 12 years of age. Established on October 13th, 1949, the membership primarily consists of elementary school students and it is run by the Communist Youth League, an organization for older youths affiliated with the Communist Party of China. Upon reaching the age of fourteen, members automatically graduate from the Young Pioneers and may continue service with the Youth League. In 2002, there were an estimated 130 million Young Pioneers in China.
Netizens on the web reacted to the photographs with skepticism, as it was largely seen as a propaganda effort to promote the state-run youth organization by the government. Among other things, the five stripe insignia worn by the boy in the photographs quickly became a topic of debate, given the fact the highest-ranked officers within the Young Pioneers are decorated with three-stripes badges.
“I’ve never heard of five stripes before,” wrote one Internet commenter from Sichuan province in comments translated by the blog chinaSMACK. “I only know that having stripes all over your body is the outfit of mental patients!” On the news portal site Tencent, a reader from Nanjing joked “The humble people seek an audience with Lord Huang."
News Media Coverage
The Chinese media quickly jumped in on the story as well, providing more information about the top-ranking pioneer and the mystery behind his five stripe badge. According to the local news reports, Huang began taking interest in politics and current affairs during his early childhood; he started watching the state-run evening news program “Xinwen Lianbo” at age of two and began reading “People’s Daily” and “Reference News” daily since he was seven years old.
Soon, a photoshop challenge ensued on the Chinese portal community Tianyan, with his face superimposed over a number of iconographic paintings of Chinese leaders and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, which further highlighted the boy’s public image as a precocious political zealot.
The photoshopping fad picked up its momentum with the rise of yet another star child nicknamed “Brother Scorn,” a classmate of Huang who was first seen in a news report on the internet fame of the five-stripe badge boy.
Five Stripe Scandal
Following the reports, It was revealed that Huang was given the five stripe badge after the city of Wuhan breached the official charter and established a subbranch of the youth organization, thus allowing Huang who is the director-in-chief of the municipal branch to be distinguished with extra two stripes. In response to the “five stripe” controversy, the Young Pioneers Organization ordered the city of Wuhan to stop the practice which has been in existence since 1989. Meanwhile, the Five-Stripe badges, Red Young Pioneer Scarves and striped T-shirts have become high-demand products on the online merchandise site Taobao.
More information of Huang was collected and posted on the popular Chinese forums, including pictures of the boy and his family as well as a link to his personal blog. On Weibo, many netizens scorned at the boy as overzealous and even pretentious, while others criticized his parents for brainwashing and living vicariously through their overachieving child. In an interview with Changjiang Times, Huang’s parents denied ever encouraging their son to take interest in politics:
“He’s just a child,” the boy’s father, Huang Hongzhang told the newspaper. “I don’t understand why people want to take out their frustrations with society on my son.”
Although the majority of online opinion has been unfavorable towards Huang, an influential Chinese blogger came to defend the Young Pioneer in an article published in May 2011:
A lot of netizens feel politics have are harmful to elementary school students, but I don’t see anything wrong with the “News Simulcast” as children’s programming. What is political and what is not political, elementary school students have no idea… Any brainwashing that happens before adolescence turns to ash, or even reverses itself completely, once kids start to learn about the world. Whose education hasn’t been like this?
Wall Street Journal – Five Stripes: Rise and Fall of China’s Youngest Political Star