Originally, the word "fifty-cent party" (五毛党, wumaodang, also "fifty-cent gang" as in this question) referred to posters on BBS and other internet fora, on blogs, on comments sections to news sites or videos, or other areas inviting user comments who were alleged to be in the pay of government agencies. There appears to be some basis in truth; some municipal governments were in fact paying .50 Chinese yuan (about US $0.07) per post for opinions supporting the government or opposing those critical of government policy. However, the true extent of this practice is difficult to assess. China has a large number of companies whose business is to "manage" online public opinion, and while their services are usually aimed at brands looking to create astroturf (i.e. fake grassroots) support for a particular product or brand and to drown out criticism, some of these companies also take on government clients. It should be noted that this practice is by no means limited to China, neither for commercial or political purposes.

The world "fifty-center" (五毛) is now generally used to describe anyone who espouses opinions sympathetic to or supportive of the Chinese government irrespective of whether that espousal is bought and paid for. It is a pejorative term used mainly by Chinese liberals ("rightists" in the Chinese political context) to tar supposed apologists for Beijing or the Communist Party.

In one notable invocation of the concept of the "fifty-cent party" on April 22 2010, liberal activist Wang Zhongxia (王仲夏) walked onto a stage at Renmin (People's) University in Beijing and threw a large handful of .50 yuan notes at Wu Hao (伍皓), the deputy director of the Yunnan Propaganda Bureau. Wu Hao has earned praise in some quarters as an effective "Internet spokesperson" who acts as a liason between Yunnan netizens and their provincial government. Supporters say he has increased transparency, provided a channel for netizen input, and has actually addressed netizen concerns regarding alleged injustices. His detractors, however, say that he is simply putting a humane face on an oppressive regime and is, for that reason, even worse than the nakedly abusive autocrats he works for.

Browse photography at Denver.Gallery.