Nov 17 2007
黑客 or 红客?
The organization of Chinese hackers is often referred to as the Honker Union of China by most open-source reporting to include the Chinese themselves. This report will instead refer to the organization as the “Red Hacker Alliance” as it is in the author’s opinion, truer to the original Chinese. Hopefully, this will not cause confusion for those readers who are familiar with the subject matter and accustomed to seeing the organization referred to as the Honker Union of China. There are three main reasons for this shift away from the term Honker:
1) The term Honker has little or no meaning in the English language. It can refer to a person who honks a horn; a slang term for the nose; or a goose. None of these definitions apply. Furthermore, it fails to provide the average Western reader with the undertones contained in the Chinese characters.
2) The Chinese use a combination of two characters to form a transliteration of the English word hacker. The first is 黑 (pronounced the same as the English word hay) and the second is 客 (pronounced the same as the hard C sound in could). The character 黑 means “dark” or “black” and the character 客 means “visitor” or “guest”. So in Chinese, hacker is represented as 黑客, or the “dark visitor.” There is a Romanization system developed to assist non-native speakers learn Chinese, called Pinyin, that assists in forming the sounds for these characters. In Pinyin, 黑客 is written as Heike. Chinese hackers later decided to change the 黑 to 红, which means “red” and is written in Pinyin as Hong. Thus, the group’s name became 红客 (Hongke). The term Honker is probably derived from a contraction (removing the g) of the Pinyin Hongke to Honker (adding the r). The use of the Pinyin in this instance does not convey the true meaning of the characters. Substituting the color Red for Honker in the title also gives it a more patriotic feel to the translation that is much closer to the meaning and expresses the ideology of the alliance.
3) Adding more confusion to the term Honker is the way in which it has been applied over time. Initially, it seems to have been used to describe all the associated groups and individuals making up the alliance and may have actually been an umbrella moniker for this loose association. As the nature of the group took on greater form and substance, it became tied to one set in the group more than the others. To suggest that there is only one group is inaccurate. It is certainly an alliance, but it is an alliance of independent groups and not subject to the dictates of an individual leader or organization. Think of it as the evolution of a rock band. We will call it the “John Smith” Band. In the beginning the name covers all members and is simply billed as the John Smith Band. However, as time goes on and the lead singer, who we will call Tony (Honker Union of China), moves into the spotlight and gets greater press coverage, the band is now billed as “Tony and the John Smith Band.” More time elapses, Tony’s popularity increases and now the entire group headlines as “Tony.” This is what appears to have happened with the Red Hacker Alliance.
NOTE: On this web site, when you see the term Honker Union of China it refers to only the one web site and its associated members, not the larger organization. When referring to the collection of all web sites the term Red Hacker Alliance will be used. When asked to give a distinction between regular hackers and Red Hackers, the “Godfather” (Wan Tao, discussed later) of Chinese hacking gave the following explanation:
Years ago, it was OK to be a hacker, when it simply referred to someone who would break into systems. But over the past decade, the attributes of hackers have become somewhat darker. Chinese hackers coined the word “Red Hacker”, which means someone’s a patriotic hacker. Unlike our Western counterparts, most of who are individualists or anarchists, Chinese hackers tend to get more involved with politics because most of them are young, passionate and patriotic. Most of them are politically motivated, as they need a way to protest against foreign matters. There’s a lack of such an outlet in real Chinese society.