The Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon is named after an unassuming alpaca who galumphed past the censors in 2009 to become a Chinese internet sensation. In the long decade since, the Lexicon has tracked online resistance discourse in 365 entries and counting. From time to time, we will feature an entry from the Lexicon worth having at the ready.
Today’s selection is not from behind the Great Firewall, but it is a vital element of Sinophone resistance discourse.
The Milk Tea Alliance is an online solidarity movement between pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, and Myanmar. It was started in 2020 by activists involved in social movements across East and Southeast Asia, but has since expanded to encompass the netizenry of Nepal, India, and beyond. Well-known youth activists, including Joshua Wong in Hong Kong, Bunkueanun “Francis” Paothong in Thailand, and others have lent their support to the alliance, as have politicians in Taiwan and India.
The name was inspired by the popularity of the drink in each of the countries involved in the alliance. An informal tri-colored Milk Tea Alliance flag represents the color of the different milk tea variants in Thailand, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Netizens from Myanmar, Nepal, and India, later additions to the alliance, also enjoy their own variants of the popular beverage.
The #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag began its life as a meme in response to the harassment of a young Thai actor and his girlfriend by Chinese nationalists. Vachirawit Chivaaree, the star of a Thai drama popular in China, and his girlfriend Weeraya “Nnevvy” Sukaram were harassed by the Fifty Cent Party and little pinks after they discovered content on the pair’s respective social media that may have suggested Hong Kong and Taiwan were independent countries. Twitter users in Thailand, Taiwan, and Hong Kong defended the couple under the hashtag #nnevvy, before eventually coming together under the #MilkTeaAlliance banner.
The popularity of the hashtag has fluctuated based on political activity in the alliance’s regions. In Thailand, pro-democracy demonstrators chanted have shouted “Free Hong Kong” at their own anti-government protests. Activists in Taipei have gathered to show support for the 2020-2021 Thai protesters. The hashtag trended in June 2020 amid calls to boycott Disney’s “Mulan” over the lead actor’s pro-Hong Kong police stance and the company’s decision to film large parts of the movie in Xinjiang.
In February 2021, the hashtag saw a resurgence on Twitter in response to the Myanmar coup. Solidarity protestors took to the streets in Taipei, Bangkok, Melbourne, and Hong Kong in support of Burmese demonstrators protesting the coup. Netizens celebrated in April 2021 when Twitter created a dedicated emoji for the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag.