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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 @05:08AM (#31368718)

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

  • ... 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."...

    Because we don't want too, thats why.

    • by DiamondGeezer ( 872237 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:30AM (#31368816) Homepage
      ...... 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

      This is the online version of denouncing people to the Thought Police in 1984. Just a reminder that China is still very much a totalitarian state.
      • by bahbar ( 982972 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:36AM (#31368836)
        It's more than that, It's the people _becoming_ the Thought Police.
      • not really (Score:3, Insightful)

        by masmullin ( 1479239 )

        sounds pretty anti-authoritarian-mob justice to me...

        totalitarian states usually want the monopoly on exacting punishments.

        • Re:not really (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:15AM (#31369032)

          Not completely - the goal is to completely brainwash people so that each accuses her or his neighbor of violations against the law. Divide et impera at its best. I come from Eastern Europe and this was practiced massively there. The motion is set by rules that control thinking and everyone stepping over whether for good or bad has her head cut off. Unfortunately, this is our innate stupidity and inconsistency as human species and many people over the ages were taking advantage of that - read Machiavelli. The clever people organize these "witch hunts" though it often backfires. Look at the French Revolution, the same ideas. Everyone is guilty of something, hence everyone can be punished in a Richelieu-an fashion.

          • by Jurily ( 900488 )

            Not completely - the goal is to completely brainwash people so that each accuses her or his neighbor of violations against the law.

            Occam's razor at work. They didn't hunt down the kitten killer because they were angry, they did it to further a big fucking secret conspiracy!

            BTW, where can I join them?

        • by umghhh ( 965931 )
          how strange it is - on one hand a totalitarian system being undermined by people's wrath on the other there the same 'movement' if you will is just a modern version of lynching practice, inaccurate and rather brutal usually. I guess this is what happens when all other breaks installed in the society stop functioning or is it another case of mass hysteria like 'commies are coming' in US back then.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by coaxial ( 28297 )

          sounds pretty anti-authoritarian-mob justice to me...

          or authoritarian mob justice

          totalitarian states usually want the monopoly on exacting punishments.

          Clearly you've never heard of the Basij [], or any of the many other "patriotic" volunteer groups. When you have groups brought up in your ideology, whatever that ideology is, you're going to have large segments of that society (the conservative segments that is) to support that ideology because their natural tendency to support the status quo, support the hierarchy, support the nation, (i.e. patriotism and the fear of the other)

          Actually this sounds quite a bit like, Texas's own,Re []

      • by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:38AM (#31368844) Homepage

        Hyperbole much?
        This is nothing but Chinese /b/tards. Bord teens to 30 somethings, who still live with their parents, as is the norm in China, going after very VERY soft targets.

        Nationalism is a disease not at all unique to China.

        Ministry of misuse and overuse of Orwell's novels.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TheLink ( 130905 )
        Seems more like those lynch mobs.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by damburger ( 981828 )

        Not exactly. This appears not to be an action of the Chinese government but of its citizens. The attacks on 'unpatriotic' people are probably unintended side-effects of government propaganda, just as right-wing 'patriots' in the US killing people is an unintended side-effect of Fox News. I think you can be damn sure the Chinese government has no desire to kick off another cultural revolution.

        This just makes it more scary in a way.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by pspahn ( 1175617 )
          Another unintended effect of Fox News, is left-wing 'bleeding-hearts' assuming all those right-wing 'patriots' are influenced by Fox News.
          • by paiute ( 550198 )

            Another unintended effect of Fox News, is left-wing 'bleeding-hearts' assuming all those right-wing 'patriots' are influenced by Fox News.

            This made me wonder who is buried in Grant's Tomb.

      • by CharlyFoxtrot ( 1607527 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:22AM (#31369054)

        Then so is the UK (making the assumption you're from there based on username) which has its fair share of witch hunts organized by the tabloids (Jade Goody, the anti-vaccination insanity, the pediatrician assaulted by confused pedophile hunters, etc...) In fact it might be more totalitarian since the Chinese incidents aren't guided by a central authority like the UK ones but are grass roots initiatives.

      • Odd that you just happen to leave out the corrupt goverment employees being hunted. Showing that this is a citizens effort, not a government one.

        In the west, we the people just let the bankers get away with the hardship they caused. Like in Iceland. Not one of the bankers has been arrested.

        No, this has nothing to do with dicatorship. And americans love this idea, it is the basis of the superhero.

      • by bsDaemon ( 87307 )
        Why do people always have to trot out 1984? Is that the only book people around here have read or something? There are plenty of real-life examples, ranging from the Inquisition (still unsuspected), the Salem Witch Trials, HUAC, Joe McCarthy... all that and I didn't even have to Godwin the thread.

        There really needs to be an Orwell Corollary to the Godwin Law, because deserved or not, the references are really getting out of hand lately.
      • No, this isn't the state doing it.. it's people.. and it doesn't require a totalitarian state.. it could happen anywhere where there is a large crowd of bored people (aka; internet users.. it's ok.. i'm one of them).

        Between the recent wave of location-aware apps and privacy concerns of places like Facebook, this will only get more common. Next thing you know we'll have people just jumping others they don't like (race,creed, sexuality preferences, so on) and other commiting location-aware crimes [].

  • 4Chan (Score:4, Insightful)

    by badran ( 973386 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:18AM (#31368772)

    This is 4Chan made in China.... or dare I say ChinChan...

    • Re:4Chan (Score:5, Interesting)

      by CharlyFoxtrot ( 1607527 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:50AM (#31368896)

      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.
      It's also interesting that similar behavior has spontaneously developed in 2 parts of the world with a very different culture, it may indicate the way future internet-centric societies will further develop. Oh dear god IS "4chan the Future of Human Consciousness?" []

      • 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.

      • 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.

        So the Church of the Subgenius really is the enlightened path?

        I could be completely wrong, but in spite of the fact that channers go after folks for everything from being of the wrong religion (if you can call Scientology a religion) to wearing an animal suit during sex or yes, even killing kittens, I can't remember hearing about them going after someone for being unpatriotic. Then again, this is probably just me being a hypocritical, undeserving westerner.

    • This is 4Chan made in China.... or dare I say ChinChan...

      I think that'd be SiChan [].

      I don't know of any dialect where the number 4 translates to "Chin". Unless you are counting the chins on a really fat person....

    • by bsDaemon ( 87307 )
    • 4Chan is just the English phenomenon of 2chan.

      It's a Japanese channel, but lots of Chinese on the front page.

      As far as I know, the concept originated in East Asia.

  • by ZirconCode ( 1477363 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:19AM (#31368774)

    Also known as Mature Bullying

  • I wonder if.. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Talar ( 1245824 )
    any in flesh searches that is not approved by the government would be as successful as the one to hunt down the moderate Tibet journalist.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    At least over here the internet mob justice is willing to affirm that it's not anyone's personal army.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The masses of idiots who are willing to gang-stalk undesirables are known as neighborhood-watch groups, H.O.A. members, Citizens-on-Patrol groups, the "private security" industry, and other mindless but well-paid yuppie doggies.

      They are the exact opposite of "not your personal army" and they'll report anybody who mentions "mudkips" to be child pornographers.
  • by elFisico ( 877213 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:29AM (#31368810)

    While the public might be a good detective, it certainly is a bad judge. Given the current technology (need I say photoshop?) a picture or a video can be faked by e.g. a malicious stalker who is after destroying a persons reputation. Posting the results of such a witch hunt without the accused having the possibility to respond to the accusation and defend hirself violates a basic human right.

    • by CharlyFoxtrot ( 1607527 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:56AM (#31368938)

      It's discussed in TFA: a corrupt local official was hunted down for attempting to pull a small girl into a bathroom, actual eyewitnesses were not sure the situation was so clear cut. The whole reason we have courts is because mob "justice" is rarely that.

      • a corrupt local official was hunted down for attempting to pull a small girl into a bathroom

        Is that physically pull (like in grab her arm, and forcefully pull her in, while she's shouting and screaming) or just statutory pulling (nicely asking her whether she wants to have some fun, please join me in my stall)?

      • by MrCrassic ( 994046 ) <deprecated AT ema DOT il> on Friday March 05, 2010 @07:20AM (#31369346) Journal

        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.”

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ShakaUVM ( 157947 )

      >>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 perfect

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        No, it's more of a feeling of "ownership" of the women, IE a certain group of Chinese men feel they "own" Chinese women and don't want the "others" sleeping with their property.
      • by quadrox ( 1174915 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @08:53AM (#31369816)

        I'm sorry, but personally I don't think it's a terribly good example, for several reasons.

        1) First of all, I myself think that chinabounders behaviour is in bad taste. Now I wouldn't go after him in any way, but It doesn't exactly make me feel sympathetic towards him either.
        2) He put it online himself. He basically told the entire world what he was doing, knowing fully well that somebody could take an issue with it. The internet is not your safe haven where you can do anything you like without consequences, at least not if you don't even attempt to remain anonymous. (ok, I don't know the details of this case, but that is what it sounds like to me).

        Of course it is still wrong for the witch hunters to do anything *illegal* to chinabounder - but if he tells the entire world what he is doing, he should not be surprised if somebody gets offended and "retaliates" in a *legal* manner.

        If the witch hunters do illegal things (aka crime), then that is not a problem with the idea of a witch hunt, but those criminal persons need to be jailed.

  • What? (Score:4, Funny)

    by tarscher ( 1000260 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:46AM (#31368878) Homepage
    Searches have also been directed against amateur pornography makers
    This thing should be banned immediately
  • by Krokz ( 1568895 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:54AM (#31368922)
    It looks to me like modern mass gathering. We all know what a charismatic leader and with a few pugilistic punch lines can do to the mass mob. You are innocent until proven guilty and this is a one sided witch hunt and strongly against peoples right to privacy. It is a good thing in some cases, but bad in most.
  • by dflock ( 316013 ) <dunc&dflock,co,uk> on Friday March 05, 2010 @05:55AM (#31368928) Homepage
    Great - the Cultural Revolution 2.0 - along with vigilantism, denouncements & public humiliation. Awesome, just what everyone needed; yay China. Sigh.
  • Skinner: Oh, there's no justice like angry-mob justice.

    Lenny: I'm gonna burn all the historic memorabilia.

    Moe: I'm gonna take me home a toilet.

    Willy: Well, there'd better be two.

  • by tnmc ( 446963 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:08AM (#31368998)

    "She's a witch!!"

  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Friday March 05, 2010 @06:09AM (#31369002) Journal

    ...and it's nothing new, even if the tools and techniques are modern.

  • Well, things are progressing, as age-old human desires and idiosyncracies get adapted and ridden along modern technologies. Really nothing new and yet still astounding.
    However, it'll get a lot more interesting, when there's an economic incentive for tracking down people and performing certain....actions: []
    Given the degree to which people are conditioned to respond in Pavlov'ian fashion for gaining a material benefit the old and formerly phi

  • 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 (

  • Is that the lynch mob went after someone killing a kitten. That's new certainly something new and implies that the west's cultural obsessions with animal welfare and cuteness are taking hold.

  • We've got all these technological advances, all these wonderful new toys, but all we can do is reinvent the frigging lynch mob.

  • How is this any different from collaborative e-stalking?

    This has been done before, at least here in the US. The most recent example I can recall was one woman being accused of "threatening" to murder her ex-boyfriend using mortuary lab equipment (article here []), when the sole evidence for this accusation was from a Facebook status update. Additionally, while China has their "BBS"es, we have Facebook, which is essentially human flesh-search made (sort of) easy. This would have catalyzed the manhunt against th

  • One of the problem with spam laws is that the enforcement of laws is so weak compared to the number of people spammers make miserable and the time and resources they steal--o boo, hoo, they declared bankruptcy and had to serve two years in prison. What really needs to happen to high-profile spammers is that they need to be dragged from the courtroom where they have been found guilty and then dragged to their deaths before cheering, spitting mobs and film crews. Maybe display the corpses in gibbets outside

  • 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

  • They give an example of a woman who posted a video of animal cruelty in China and how people on the Internet tracked her down and posted her information. In the U.S. a boy posted a video anonymously of him torturing a dog. People on the Internet spread the word and within 24 hours the poster had been identified and was being charged by the local DA. His name and information was also posted on the Internet. So, this isn't unique to China.
  • Let's for the moment ignore the question of why someone would stomp a cat to death with high heels, gloss right over the question of why someone would film themselves stomping a cat to death with high heels, and head right into the most salient question:

    Why would someone who filmed themselves stomping a cat to death with high heels put the video on the web?

    Seriously, WTF is going through these people's heads. What did she think was going to happen? " Featured Video of the Day!" or something?

  • Anyone who still believes in the myth of southern hospitality needs to visit the Topix message board for any town, large or small, in the south.

  • and cut hypocritical elitist crap like 'mob justice' and so on. this is direct democracy at work : people brought the case into the light, people provided evidence for it, people judged it, people executed the judgment. this is the way democracy was supposed to be.

    but instead of this, we have 'representatives of the representatives of the representatives to the power of n' system in politics. you elect someone who has been able to secure enough funds and connections to get into public through privately owne

    • No, this isn't democracy. This is a bunch of people deciding something and going ahead with it whether or not anyone else agrees with them. It's no more a democratic than a lynch mob. Sorry, I'm not going to support a system that forces people into hiding just because a bunch of bullies don't agree with what they said.

      • and what is different in between an aristocratic system and a representative democracy ?

        in the first, a small mob rules them all. in the latter, a bigger mob.

        in direct democracy, mob is the biggest. so, it IS democracy.

  • This is only as good or bad as the people whose morality is enforced.

    Stomping a cat to death with high heels - I'd probably do a lot more than run someone out of town for that... pornography, I'd do nothing whatsoever.

Honesty pays, but it doesn't seem to pay enough to suit some people. -- F.M. Hubbard