Chinese users ROAR!! on the Internet

BEIJING, May 31 -- Internet censorship hasn't stopped Chinese users from finding ways to express themselves - and loudly.

The latest is the "roar style," an exclamation-laden, all-caps writing style that has invaded online pop culture in that country. It describes a way of writing with exclamation marks and repetitive phrases such as “is there not?!!!” and “am I right?!!!!!”

Fans of the style say it started in late 2009 on Douban.com, a Chinese user review site for movies, books and music. It began as a digital homage to the TV actor Ma Jingtao, who is famous for his melodramatic acting style, and for shouting his lines in almost all his TV appearances. The founder of Douban.com's "Roar Group" declined to comment.

The vernacular went viral in March after its most famous example, "You cannot afford to hurt people who study French!!!!!!!!!!! Ah!!! Ah!!!!!!" was posted on RenRen, China's version of Facebook, by user Li Ke.

Ma Jingtao recently created a micro-blog, dedicated to "all the people who like to roar!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” The blog gained more than 100,000 fans in just two days.

Roar style has become an online vehicle for people to complain or vent their frustrations, said Hu Yong, an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at Peking University.

“Censorship of the internet in China leaves little space for sharp criticism, partially as a result of which, the roar style emerged in a spoof sense, and is the biggest feature of internet slang in China,” he said. "Essentially, the roar style is a way of releasing dissatisfaction."

Qiu Zeqi, a sociology professor at Peking University, described it as its own “cyber culture.”

“Online, people ... express and talk with fewer words and stronger emotions," he said. "Because of the large number of exclamations and interjections, the roar style seems to be the best choice, which can be used to relieve intense stress in modern world."

The style has continued to spread on RenRen, and has migrated into text messaging and e-mail.

It has even moved into commercial advertising and university classrooms.The Dinghao Electronic Supermarket in Beijing uses the style in grocery ads. A professor at Wuhan University in Hubei Province employs the style in class assignments, said He Xiaoyu, a student at the school.

Peng Mei, a journalist with the South Media Group says many of her colleagues have picked up the roaring habit.

“One of my girlfriends tells me she feels good when saying ‘Ni ma!!!’ every time," she said.

Ni ma literally translates to "your mother" in Chinese, and has become a favorite epithet within the style, according to “Tips to Make Roar Writing," posted on The Roar Group's micro-blog site.

Real estate clerk Chen Yongjin said he discovered the roar style last year and finds it “humorous, like other popular things" on the Internet.

But not everyone is a fan.

“I’m against the roar style," says Shen Yang, planner of the National Standard of Punctuation, and a professor in the Chinese Language and Literature department of Peking University.

"According to the national standard, the maximum number of exclamatory marks is three, so the roar style should not be promoted, especially in formal publication," Yang said.

How long the trend will last is anyone's guess, according to Peng Mei.

“The Web site is so active now in China, but everyday new fashions appear and disappear,” she said.

In fact, there already are new writing styles emerging, including Zhiyin style, in which users imitate a Reader's Digest-like magazine called Zhiyin, and Taobao style, through which users mimic salespeople on China's biggest shopping website.