Friday, January 6, 2012

China's Cyberposse

I came across this article entitled "China's Cyberposse" that was published in early 2010 right after I completed my research thesis. Published by the New York Times, the article provides an overview to western audiences about the backbone of the Human Flesh Search Engine. While the article was published by the New York Times, however I was unable to gain access to the full article but found it copy and pasted onto this Chinese web forum. What surprised me about the article is that it both my thesis and the article open in very similar fashions with the case of Wang Jue: the Kitten Killer of Hangzhou. Furthermore, the article utilizes similar sources to the ones I analyzed and mentioned the same cases.

What I disliked about the article was that the author made a clear line drawn between western and Chinese internet - that this sort of phenomena would not happen in the west. I beg to differ, I believe that while the social aspects and historical perspectives make it a uniquely Chinese occurrence, I believe the sheer number of Chinese internet users is what powers the investigative work that makes the Human Flesh Search Engine so powerful, a topic I discuss at length in my thesis.

And let's not forget that viral web investigation is not absent from the western internet. However, more often than not the power of the internet is used to bring about moderate fame or overexposure. Take for example the popularity of video bloggers on YouTube, many of whom reach thousands of views a day and are able to share their views and social commentaries on the internet. While the exposure element remains similar to the Chinese internet, western internet is missing the community investigation and collective moral righteousness found through the Human Flesh Search Engine.

I was just a little surprised that as I read this article it began to sound as though it could be a succinct version of my paper. I'm in no way saying that anything of mine was used, just simply pointing out that I believe when beginning to research the Human Flesh Search Engine, certain cases of the investigative work point researchers onto similar paths. And certain cases also draw more attention, especially in western media, than others.

However, the article did point to a Chinese author who is has written a book titled Human Flesh Search which has been released in China. It's times like this when I wish that I spent more time on my Chinese learning over the years, although my reading ability has always been a bit weak due to my inability to devote much time to the study of grammar. And I don't foresee this being translated into English any time soon...

Tomorrow expect a post reviewing the Human Flesh Search Engine as portrayed in film and television. One post will be dedicated to the recent Law and Order episode devoted to and similarly titled "Human Flesh Search Engine." The other will be a review of "Human Flesh Search Engine," a short film by Daedalum Films which explores the phenomena and asks the question: "what can it tell us about modern China?" I'm excited to view both of these and will provide necessary links and reference information in their respective posts.

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