A mysterious “Sweeping Old Lady” has stormed Chinese social media circles to become the first notable cyber figure of 2011. Quick to share her wisdom with those who work diligently, this virtual charwoman might seem lowly but, as in real life, appearances can be deceptive.
Cyber figures add a human face to Internet memes, adding character and evoking a shared emotional response when added to blog posts, comments and chats. Think of the “Forever Alone Guy" who originally appeared on 4chan (or, some say, Reddit) or the many various screen caps posted in the comments to FARK articles – often no text is needed to transmit the poster's meaning and intent.
China is no different in that respect, though differences in culture result in a unique set of cyber figures, visual memes and online catch phrases: My Dad is Li Gang, for instance, epitomizes the latter.
But I digress, so let's get back to the former: the Sweeping Old Lady. The popular cyber figure first appeared in a January 11, 2011 blog post by a Chinese netizen going by the handle “Programmer Humor”. The blogger related a story (truth unknown) about an old cleaning woman who sweeps the floors of the Internet company where he works. No one would pay her a second glance if she didn't have the habit of noting what was on the worker's monitor screens, and making some sort of helpful suggestion.
Since Programmer Humor published his original post, China's netizens have been energized to post their own versions of the Sweeping Old Lady story with one poster stating he experienced the situation in real life!
The roots of the Sweeping Old Lady cyber figure can be found in “Tian Long Ba Bu”, a 1963 novel written by best-selling Chinese author Louis Cha (pen name: Jin Yong). In the novel, an old “sweeping monk” who does the lowest class of work around the Shaolin Temple is actually the No.1 master.
The Sweeping Old Lady embodies this character archetype while dusting it off, so to speak, for the Internet age and the needs of China's netizens. “She has a low profile. She is modest. She has great wisdom but is willing to do the lowly work of a cleaning lady,” states Wang Hanlu of People's Daily Online. “She is a just a person easily overlooked wandering among professional people, but she always gives the most valuable suggestions.”
Indeed, though 1,000 different people might have their own conception of who the Sweeping Old Lady is and how she can help them, the basic concept is a universal one. Sums up Wang Hanlu, “Lots of netizens wish that they could have such a lady beside them to give them precious suggestions at a key time.” Whether you're Chinese or not, I'm sure you will agree. (via People's Daily and Women Of China)