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China's Human Flesh Search Engine 248

Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times has an interesting article about Human-flesh search engines — renrou sousuo yinqing — that have become a phenomenon in China: they are a form of online vigilante justice in which Internet users hunt down and punish people who have attracted their wrath. The goal is to get the targets of a search fired from their jobs, shamed in front of their neighbors, or run out of town. It's crowd-sourced detective work, pursued online — with offline results. 'In the United States, traditional media are still playing the key role in setting the agenda for the public,' says Jin Liwen. 'But in China, you will see that a lot of hot topics, hot news or events actually originate from online discussions.' In one well known case, when a video appeared in China of a woman stomping a cat to death with the sharp point of her high heel, the human flesh search engine tracked the kitten killer's home to the town of Luobei in Heilongjiang Province, in the far northeast, and her name — Wang Jiao — was made public, as were her phone number and her employer. 'Wang Jiao was affected a lot,' says one Luobei resident. 'She left town and went somewhere else.' The kitten-killer case didn't just provide revenge; it helped turn the human-flesh search engine into a national phenomenon. Searches have also been directed against cheating spouses, corrupt government officials, amateur pornography makers, Chinese citizens who are perceived as unpatriotic, journalists who urge a moderate stance on Tibet and rich people who try to game the Chinese system."
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China's Human Flesh Search Engine

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:04AM (#31368968)

    After local newspapers wrote self-described wolf woman severed a lost dog's head [], a US-based human flesh search engine posted IM logs, IRC logs, and phone calls [] with the suspects about the incident along with the suspects' personal information [].

  • by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:05AM (#31368974) Journal

    and "Anonymous is not your personal army" seems to have held up pretty well against gaming.

    And do not forget the anonymous' rescue of Dusty [].

  • Re:4Chan (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:34AM (#31369114)

    The difference being the Chinese are motivated by a sense of moral justice (at least on the surface) instead of a nihilistic quest for lulz. Frankly I like the 4chan way better, seems more honest.

    Oddly (or perhaps not), cat abuse seems to bring out a sense of moral justice even in 4chan: see "Kenny Glenn The Animal Abuser". []

  • Re:4Chan (Score:5, Informative)

    by the_one(2) ( 1117139 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:35AM (#31369118)

    The difference being the Chinese are motivated by a sense of moral justice (at least on the surface) instead of a nihilistic quest for lulz. Frankly I like the 4chan way better, seems more honest.

    They are also motivated by their love for cats.

  • This is ancient (Score:3, Informative)

    by cruachan ( 113813 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:55AM (#31369236)

    Nothing new in concept here, although the implementation is updated :-), The Chinese have been using similar systems of group responsibility as far back as the Qin dynasty (200BC or so). Bao Jia is a later (~1000AD) derivation that might be considered related to what's going on here too (

  • Where in the article does it say that the government official was taking the girl to a bathroom? The person who dubbed the video assumed that he was doing this, though the staff at the restaurant thought different. Section reprinted below:

    THE PLUM GARDEN Seafood Restaurant stands on a six-lane road that cuts through Shenzhen, a fishing village turned factory boomtown. It has a subterranean dining room with hundreds of orange-covered seats, an open kitchen to one side and a warren of small private rooms to the other. Late on a Friday night in October 2008, a security camera captured a scene that was soon replayed all over the Chinese Internet and sparked a human-flesh search against a government official.

    In the video clip, an older man crosses the background with a little girl. Later the girl runs back through the frame and returns with her father, mother and brother. The subtitles tell us that the old man had tried to force the girl into the men’s room, presumably to molest her, and that her father is trying to find the man who did that. Then the girl’s father appears in front of the camera, arguing with that man.

    There is no sound on the video, so you have to rely on the Chinese subtitles, which seem to have been posted with the video. According to those subtitles, the older man tells the father of the girl: “I did it, so what? How much money do you want? Name your price.” He gestures violently and continues: “Do you know who I am? I am from the Ministry of Transportation in Beijing. I have the same level as the mayor of your city. So what if I grabbed the neck of a small child? If you dare challenge me, just wait and see how I will deal with you.” He moves to leave but is blocked by restaurant employees and the girl’s father. The group exits frame left.


    While Netizens saw this as a struggle between an arrogant official and a victimized family of common people, the staff members at Plum Garden, when I spoke to them, had a different take. First, they weren’t sure that Lin had been trying to molest the girl. Perhaps, they thought, he was just drunk. The floor director, Zhang Cai Yao, told me, “Maybe the government official just patted the girl on the head and tried to say, ‘Thank you, you’re a nice girl.’ ” Zhang saw the struggle between Lin and the family as a kind of conflict she witnessed all too often. “It was a fight between rich people and officials,” she says. “The official said something irritating to her parents, who are very rich.”

  • by ShakaUVM ( 157947 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @07:23AM (#31369354) Homepage Journal

    >>While the public might be a good detective, it certainly is a bad judge.

    Indeed. The whole Chinabounder fiasco is a good example of how witch hunts can go bad.

    Essentially, Chinaboundder (an English guy) kept a blog about the Chinese women he slept with (all of age, consensual, etc.) A Chinese professor called out a witch hunt on him (I guess what the OP is calling a flesh search engine) and he had to go into hiding.

    Because in China, you see, you don't talk about the women you sleep with. It's perfectly fine to have a mistress. You just don't talk about it.

  • by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @07:27AM (#31369364) Homepage

    re-read the book if you think that is a valid statement.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 05, 2010 @07:49AM (#31369462)


  • by Anonymous Bullard ( 62082 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @08:16AM (#31369596) Homepage

    After the March 2008 Tibetan uprising across the three provinces of Chinese-occupied Tibet during which a few Chinese (both uniformed and settlers) were killed and a dozen more died while hiding when Chinese-owned shops were set alight and over two hundred Tibetans were killed by the Chinese army and paramilitary and over two thousand Tibetans simply went missing (dead or kept in horrendous secret prison camps) there were demonstrations across the world featuring mostly freedom-supporting foreign nationals and occasionally angry Chinese Communist Party-organized "fen qing" [] defending Chinese imperialism and colonialism in Tibet.

    During one rare demonstration at the Duke University featuring both sets of campaigners, a young Chinese student Grace Wang, who also had Tibetan and Western friends and who had mastered the art of respectful debate, tried in vain to mediate between the two groups of protesters. Here is a quote from the Washington Post article ("Caught in the Middle, Called a Traitor") on what happened next []:

    At the height of the protest, a group of Chinese men surrounded me, pointed at me and, referring to the young woman who led the 1989 student democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, said, "Remember Chai Ling? All Chinese want to burn her in oil, and you look like her." They said that I had mental problems and that I would go to hell. They asked me where I was from and what school I had attended. I told them. I had nothing to hide. But then it started to feel as though an angry mob was about to attack me. Finally, I left the protest with a police escort.

    Back in my dorm room, I logged onto the Duke Chinese Students and Scholars Association (DCSSA) Web site and listserv to see what people were saying. Qian Fangzhou, an officer of DCSSA, was gloating, "We really showed them our colors!"

    I posted a letter in response, explaining that I don't support Tibetan independence, as some accused me of, but that I do support Tibetan freedom, as well as Chinese freedom. All people should be free and have their basic rights protected, just as the Chinese constitution says. I hoped that the letter would spark some substantive discussion. But people just criticized and ridiculed me more.

    The next morning, a storm was raging online. Photographs of me had been posted on the Internet with the words "Traitor to her country!" printed across my forehead. Then I saw something really alarming: Both my parents' citizen ID numbers had been posted. I was shocked, because this information could only have come from the Chinese police.

    I saw detailed directions to my parents' home in China, accompanied by calls for people to go there and teach "this shameless dog" a lesson. It was then that I realized how serious this had become. My phone rang with callers making threats against my life. It was ironic: What I had tried so hard to prevent was precisely what had come to pass. And I was the target.

    I talked to my mom the next morning, and she said that she and my dad were going into hiding because they were getting death threats, too. She told me that I shouldn't call them. Since then, short e-mail messages have been our only communication. The other day, I saw photos of our apartment online; a bucket of feces had been emptied on the doorstep. More recently I've heard that the windows have been smashed and obscene posters have been hung on the door. Also, I've been told that after convening an assembly to condemn me, my high school revoked my diploma and has reinforced patriotic education.

  • i've seen that video (Score:3, Informative)

    by circletimessquare ( 444983 ) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Friday March 05, 2010 @08:43AM (#31369756) Homepage Journal

    what's impressive to me is that even in china, where they pretty much eat anything "everything with 4 legs except the table" they are repulsed by simple cruelty

    in other words, animal rights activists: there is a code, understandable by all meat eaters, that eating meat is not cruelty, its simple sustenance. meanwhile, the divide between that understanding, and the simple understanding that needless cruelty to animals is disgusting is stark, clear, and universally understood. common chinese repulsion to that video, the same people famous for eating dogs, civet cats, whatever, they are equally repulsed at that video as your average morrisey listening mopey animal rights activist in the west

    animal rights activists: people are repulsed by cruelty, universally and fundamentally, and they understand the difference between the need for sustenance and unnecessary vile behavior. and they genuinely are two different things. sorry: meat is not murder

    and frankly, hound that fucking bitch and the cameraman too

    if you've seen that video, even the most law and order obsessed amongst us would be grabbing the pitchfork and letting out a throaty cry for some mob vigilante justice on that bitch

  • Re:not really (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jurily ( 900488 ) <jurily@g m a i l . com> on Friday March 05, 2010 @09:15AM (#31369958)

    Sigh. Don't lecture me about communism. I'm Hungarian, I grew up in that shit.

    What you're talking about is communism, but China is socialist now. Let me explain the difference:

    In communism, the ruling class has a serious paranoia, because everybody hates them, and their only power base is the military. Therefore, they do anything they feel necessary to stay in power, including propaganda, mass executions, secret police, you name it. China was like that when Mao ran the show. It wasn't pretty.

    In socialism, the propaganda is the same, although toned down because nobody fights it anymore. It's taken for granted. The ruling class also secured their power a long time ago, so they're more relaxed about it as well. All they need to keep their power is to run the country like they promised, and people will be content with that. China is the most successful country in the world right now, who could possibly step up and believably claim they could do a better job in power?

    They don't need to harass their own people anymore, just the ones who are actively creating unrest. People in socialism don't care about politics: they know it's pointless. What they do care about is that now they can get a job they can be confident will last them until retirement, because the state provides it.

    If you want to know more, read up on Mátyás Rákosi (communism) [], János Kádár (socialism) [], and Géza Hofi (criticism done right in the absence of freedom of the press) [].

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Friday March 05, 2010 @11:33AM (#31371428)
    Because justifiable indignation is just where it *starts*. Vigilantism always starts out with noble motives, but ends up with witch hunts. The mass molestation witch hunts [] of the 1980's are a great example. They started out well-intentioned, but quickly devolved into a mass hysteria that destroyed a LOT of lifes (there are innocent people still in prison to this day because of what happened during that time).

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.