Friday, December 7, 2012

OLLI Course

I've posted my slideshow PowerPoint presentation slides from the OLLI course at UMass Boston which I recently finished teaching entitled "How the Internet has Changed Political Participation in China." The presentation includes the slides from all six lessons and discussions.

Chinese Internet Activists

After a sex tape went viral last week depicting Chongqing district party chief Lei Zhengfu having sex with an eighteen-year-old girl, the official was quickly fired from his position while Zhu Ruifeng, the netizen who shared the video on his website, was praised for his internet activism.

The incident has since been praised by Chinese media. Below are some snippets from this article by the Voice of America:

In an editorial published Tuesday, the state-run China Daily newspaper welcomed what it called the "prowess" of Zhu and other activists who use the Internet as a "tool against abusive officials."

It said Lei's case shows the effectiveness of social media in triggering government action, and it urged anti-corruption leaders to "embrace" Internet activists as a "close ally." China's main anti-corruption agency issued a statement Monday saying it recognizes a need for authorities to "seriously address" corruption problems "reported by the masses."

And some skepticism:

"For the central government, Internet activism ... that singles out a few 'bad apples' [corrupt officials] is fine, but political and social red lines remain," said Galperin, an international freedom of expression coordinator at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Allowing [such] activism does not mean, for example, that Tibetan activists will see any increased tolerance."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Spelling Out Human Flesh Search

Sorry I've been absent the past few months. Not only have I been working tirelessly on my M.A. thesis focusing on aspects of Human Flesh Search (particularly it's context with recent Cultural Revolution-memory revivalism on the Chinese Internet), but I also finished up my OLLI course on the Chinese Internet and HFS, and the discussions that came out of that course were particularly insightful in how to present HFS and it's context to a western audience.

As such, I wanted to point out two great articles which seek to bring HFS to a western audience by both defining the term and explaining how HFS is structured and how it functions:

What a “Human Flesh Search” Is, And How It’s Changing China over at Tea Leaf Nation, and a follow-up to this piece delving deeper into some of HFS's mechanics over at 八八吧 :: 88 Bar, which specifically mentions the categories which my research has placed HFS cases into.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Netizen Outrage, Echoes of Mao-Era Struggle

I've been collating and organizing my past and current research making historical connections among Human Flesh Search and the Cultural Revolution in preparation for writing my graduate thesis. As such, I wrote a piece over at Tea Leaf Nation making comparisons between netizens on the Chinese Internet and Red Guards of the Cultural Revolution. These comparisons and the article act as a summary of broad themes that I am researching for my graduate thesis, which will take my undergraduate work and delve deeper into making connections and fleshing out themes in Chinese history that I merely touched upon in the past.

Read the article HERE.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Leaders Brave the Internet (Sort of)

Yesterday I discussed the changing role the internet and web chats have on politicians and leaders, especially in China. Today I revisited the topic on Tea Leaf Nation making some comparisons to President Obama's AMA on Reddit and questioning if this online interaction with citizens is both practical and sincere.

Read the article HERE.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Social Media and Government

President Obama's question and answer session on the popular website has drawn media attention for his ability to utilize technology to get closer to the average citizen. But as the President was performing his ask-me-anything (AMA) on Reddit, Yang Dacai, Provincial Work Safety Administration of Shaanxi Province took to the Chinese internet to do a live chat concerning images circulating of him smiling at the scene of a tragic bus accident, and to refute claims that corruption is to thank for the various expensive watches he's been shown to wear.

Before I post the details of his live chat, the larger picture at play is the government's use of the internet and online technologies to reach the average citizen. Especially on the Chinese internet, political voices have been known to fuel rumors, bring down corrupt officials, and sway judges to amend sentencing. And in recent years, Chinese officials have been taking to the internet to gauge support.

In early 2009, Chinese President Hu Jintao urged local officials to improve their internet literacy in an effort to improve leadership. By doing so, he argued, the Party would be able to get a better gauge of the political climate. This outlook was followed up by a web chat hosted by Premier Wen Jiabao's in February 2009. The chat left a strong influence on the Premier, who later said he “perceived confidence and strength from people’s suggestions online.” In June 2009, President Hu himself logged into a web forum hosted by the People's Daily where he chatted with the public. However, the chat only last for four minutes. But what's clear is that the Chinese government hopes these online sessions with government officials will provide the people with a sense of transparency in the inner-workings of the Communist Party. My prior research delves a bit deeper into the underlying motives and questions concerning the role of government online - to read, please click here (begins on page 15).

In keeping up with this trend, Yang Dacai decided that the best way to refute rumors was to take to the internet himself. Live-chatting from Weibo, Yang answered 12 out of over 6,000 questions posed.

In defense of his questionable smile that has been circulating the Chinese blogosphere since Monday, Yang responded, “Everyone was wound up. Some comrades’ accents were very strong, and some of what they were saying I couldn’t quite get. I was trying to get them to relax a little, so maybe, in an unguarded moment, I got a little too relaxed myself. When I think about it now, I’m filled with regret.” (WSJ - China Real Time Report)

Responding to claims that he could not possible afford so many luxury watches, Yang defended himself saying that he bought the watches using his salary of the past ten years. However, this answer did not go over well with netizens who continued to argue that the modest salary of an official at his rank would not be able to support such luxuries.

In recent years Chinese have taken to the web to battle perceived corruption in their government, a move that has been met with much success. Yang himself applauds these actions saying that for the people to monitor officials in such a way is “reasonable and normal.” A sentiment that would surely have been shared with the ideology of Mao Zedong.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Official Outfits

One of the main stories of "netizens vs. corruption" that my own research drew upon was the story of Zhou Jiugeng, a Chinese state official who was thrown into the internet spotlight after netizens dissected photographs oh himself wearing an expensive watch and equally expensive foreign cigarettes. It was later discovered that he also drove a Cadillac to work. Netizens questioned how a man in his position could afford such luxuries and determined that he must be involved in corruption since his salary did not match his amenities. As a result, he was fired from his post.

I discovered today two similar causes of netizens dissecting the outfits of officials and both questioning their spending abilities and morals.

The first story is from March 2012 during the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Delegate Li Xiaolin came under fire from netizens for wearing an expensive Emilio Pucci pantsuit. While debates among netizens ranged from anger over lavish spending against a backdrop of Chinese rural poor, to the delegate's freedom to spend her money as she chooses and wear what she wants. Concurrent with attacks on Li, other images began to pop up showcasing various delegates sporting suits and attire from famous western designers such as Hermes, Dior, and Chanel.

More recently, a story followed a tragic event in Shaanxi province where an overnight bus rammed into the back of a gas tanker and caught fire, killing 36 people. Shortly after the accident, a photo circulated on Weibo depicting a middle-aged overweight man smiling near the wreckage. Netizens did a human flesh search for the man's identity and determined him to be Yang Dacai, chief of Shaanxi’s Safety Supervision Bureau. The photograph quickly sparked ire among netizens condemning his actions.

Regardless of his reasons for smiling, be it nerves or another situation that will remain unknown to netizens, those on China's internet soon began to analyze various photos of Yang wearing expensive watches costing anywhere from $30,000-60,000, more than an official in his post should be able to afford, proving that officials need to keep in mind that their expenses are not without scrutiny on the Chinese internet.

Chinese Netizens: South Koreans "Lucky"

A few days ago I blogged about the South Korean's court decision to rule real-name registration requirements on popular website unconstitutional. After the decision came out, I wrote a piece on Tea Leaf Nation on the subject and the response of Chinese netizens.

Read the article HERE.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Graduate Woes

One of the arguments in my research is that netizen participation in China is high because Chinese graduates are either facing lack of work or are working at jobs that they are overqualified for, leading to extra time being spent on the internet and thus finding activities and posting grievances on the internet. While this is a hard argument to substantiate, there was a new article today by the Wall Street Journal saying that 69% of college graduates in China currently make less than migrant workers.

While worker dissatisfaction hasn't manifested itself politically, such as in public protests, it is bound to be a worry for China's top leaders who regularly stress the need to avoid social instability, particularly ahead of this fall's leadership change.

Whether or not this underemployment is the reason for netizen activities on the Chinese internet, as stated above the dissatisfaction among students in job placement is enough to cause unrest online, and perhaps offline.

Chinese Interests in Africa

Africa has long been a land of lush resources, home to both fertile lands and harsh deserts. Some of the most powerful ancient civilizations were located on the continent, including the Egyptian, Carthaginian, and Mali empires. However, in the modern era Africa has become known for the carving up that occurred when European nations began to colonize the continent in the nineteenth century and strip it of it's resources. And today, similar work is underway by China.

Prior to the nineteenth century, Africa's main draws were its rich mineral deposits (namely gold) and the slave trade which flourished in Europe and the America colonies. By the nineteenth century, European powers quickly began to set up colonies in Africa in what was known as "the Scramble for Africa," invading the continent, colonizing, and annexing land. Native Africans could do little to halt the Europeans who had advanced weaponry due to the tide of the Industrial Revolution. Soon, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, and Spain would claim land in Africa, stripping it of resources.

While the age of imperialism drew to a close with the onset of two world wars, and revolutions granting independence to native peoples from their colonial powers, the time of colonization has had a lasting influence on Africa. Most notably, the European nations worked to strip Africa of resources, but did little build lasting infrastructure to the region.

Today, a new effort is underway in Africa spearheaded by the Chinese. The Chinese are leading enormous infrastructural projects in Africa, building the region (and also getting access to much needed resources in the process) and pouring large amounts of money into projects all along the African continent.

The Chinese are placing most of these funds into resource investment, utilizing Africa's rich deposits and untapped areas. The Chinese are also striving to improve infrastructure and transportation throughout the region. However, is this advancement and investment in infrastructure to benefit the locals or to aid Chinese efforts to access and transport resources? Is Chinese "investment" in Africa a subtle word choice to mask plans to get at Africa's resources?

Another part of this is a large influx of Chinese workers into Africa, a move that is creating hostilities between the Chinese and local populations. Visitors to China may also note large influxes of African students studying in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. While large pockets of African students exist in China, they are often met with hostile attitudes centered on racism.

The similarities between European colonization of Africa and China's recent "investments" in Africa are great. And the growing tensions between the two cultures and China's ambitions in the region are definitely something to keep an eye on.

Obama v. Romney

Wondering what netizens think of the US presidential election and candidates? My latest article at Tea Leaf Nation examines which candidates netizens on Chinese social media are throwing their support behind.

Read the article HERE.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Update: S. Korean Name Registration

Judges in South Korea voted unanimously to block a law that would have required netizens to use their real names when posting to the internet. Real-name registration, a practice that is gaining momentum on various Chinese websites, strips netizens of anonymity when posting to the internet in the hopes that removing an online user's ability to post and hide behind an anonymous handle with deter the spread of rumors, lies, and libel online.

South Korean judges blocked the law saying it undermines freedom of speech and prevents netizens from voicing concerns on the internet and that no proof has been shown that real name registration does in fact limit libel and cut down on abusive comments on the internet.

This news removes South Korean from the list of Asian nations aiming for real-name registration laws and policies on the internet. Chinese cities have been making strides to implement similar policies for websites such as Sina Weibo, however critics argue that doing so severely limits political participation and voicing concerns online.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Parental Bad News

Why are Chinese parents hiding bad news from their children? New article I co-wrote up over at Tea Leaf Nation.

Read the article: HERE.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

London Opening Ceremony

Another one of my articles is now up over at Tea Leaf Nation. This is a shorter piece that quickly analyzed what Chinese netizens thought of the London Opening Ceremony in comparison to Beijing's in 2008.

Read the article HERE.

Netizen Anger Over Swimming Allegations

My second article on Tea Leaf Nation focuses on the netizen anger over Ye Shiwen's miraculous race and the doping allegations that immediately followed from a BBC commentator.

Read the article HERE.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Tea Leaf Nation Contribution

I've recently become a contributor at Tea Leaf Nation and my first story was posted this morning, titled Op-Ed: What America’s Troubled Schools Can Learn From the Shanghai Model. Go check it out :)

Monday, July 2, 2012

"Rail" Name Problems

In my research I've discussed the implications of implementing real-name verification requirements to popular websites within China. Some websites in China's main cities have already begun to enact these requirements, although they are loosely structured. And further advancements have begun to move past the planning stages in the past few months, leaving lasting implications over the rights of netizens online and questions as to how and when a netizen's personal identity can be shared. This policy threatens the power of anonymity on the internet, and more specifically, the power that anonymity holds for web activists around the globe.

Recently a news story surfaced where a woman in China was denied a train ticket because her name was put on a travel blacklist. A recent (and loosely upheld) policy change in China requires tickets to display the real name of the ticket holder. The woman, Chen Xiujuan, is a farmer in China's northern region and sought to travel to Beijing to air her grievances to the central government. She was denied a train ticket by an agent who found Chen's name on a train ticketing blacklist.

What makes this story so poignant is that it amplifies the concerns that real-name verification purposes can hold for Chinese citizens in a variety of settings. This case shows the often benign reasons that can bring someone to become blacklisted, and the effects with which being blacklisted causes - in Chen's case, her ability to protest against farming grievances in her village. Real-name verification for the Chinese internet would look very similar. At present Chinese microblogs such as Weibo provide netizens with the luxury of airing their grievances under the guise of online anonymity (although Weibo now has very loose name verification policies). If Chen's case with railway travel emulates itself on the Chinese blogging sphere, one could soon find that many of China's dissenting voices could be forever silenced. On top of that, the government would be able to dictate who is able to share their opinions and views on the Chinese internet, gravely robbing the Chinese internet of its diverse voices.

On the other hand, this story may not seem as surprising to western audiences, where travel bans and blacklists have existed for years. The United States has strict identity requirements when traveling by air or rail requiring passengers to provide their legal name. And when flying passengers must present valid forms of identification. Rail travel in China equates to America's airline industry: the preferred mode of travel for its population. Therefore it may not be surprising to see real-name identification policy being enacted among Chinese rail travel. However, especially during China's holiday seasons, rail travel increases to levels unfathomable to the America airline industry and the question arises as to just how efficient rail identification will be, and if it will be upheld when travelers swell into the stations.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Social Media and Journalism

Tea Leaf Nation, a website aimed to "make sense out of China's social media" posted a great list of how China's Weibo, and social media in general, are changing journalism. After attending MIT's Knight Civic Media Conference, Tea Leaf Nation summarized some of the major talking points (below):

Some reasons Chinese social media matters: Weibo is the closest thing China has for free speech and free debate. This window into grassroots opinion in China can help inform the political decisions that other countries make.

Redefining the quote: One thing we are trying to do at TLN is to redefine the quote. Getting quotes used to be an extractive activity; you had to go out on the street and canvas. But with social media, people are projecting their sentiments out into the world, and all we have to do is read then.

Linguistic/cultural arbitrage: Because China’s Internet is still siloed culturally, linguistically and technologically, there’s a lot of inefficiency in Western coverage of China. Tea Leaf Nation stands in a unique place, bringing Chinese Internet content to the West. This could be called “language arbitrage,” or “cultural arbitrage.”

Local people set the news agenda, not journalists: It’s hard to miss the time when journalists had monopolies on what constitutes a big story, and a lot of trending stories within China got missed. It’s crucial to look at the top searched terms on Baidu, or the trending topics on Weibo—they can only be avoided for so long.

Breaking news won’t cut it: Journalism can be exhausting. If news breaks on Twitter, or Weibo, it’s only “breaking” for around 10 minutes—it’s an almost instantaneous process. The race to be “first” is no longer meaningful.

Lessons from Panhe: In February, TLN noticed tweets about an uprising in a village called Panhe. TLN then appears to have been first to report about Panhe in the West. Reporters who later braved the trip to Panhe were violently turned away. There’s no comparison between the courage and moxie of the “boots on the ground” reporters and TLN’s timely, but risk-free, reporting. No matter how futuristic things get, there will always be a need for journalists with the courage to go out into the field.

Why post on Weibo? When China’s netizens post on Weibo, it’s because they want to be heard. Fear not–Tea Leaf Nation is listening!

Source: Tea Leaf Nation

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Net Law

The Chinese government is working on a plan to change the definition of "internet service providers" to include blogs, microblogs, and forums in an effort to end illegal activity and develop "trust" online. Ultimately the plan would require that netizens register for these newly defined services using their real identities before being able to post content to the web. Also included would be provisions requiring these websites to hold onto their records and logs and cooperate when asked to turn them over to the police.

Full story from BBC News.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

OLLI Course

I was recently accepted to teach a course this at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UMass Boston this fall. My course, titled "How the Internet has Changed Political Participation in China," will run one night a week for six weeks.

Through my course I hope to allow students to delve deeply into the statistics and activism that is taking root on the Chinese internet. My research on the HFS will strongly influence this course. I intend to contribute three of the courses to examining case studies of HFS events and instances that will be discussed at length. I hope to discuss these cases in terms of anonymity on the internet, online activism, the Chinese government's response, as well as comparing these issues with the American internet in discussing if events of this caliber can occur with a different setting.

"How the Internet has Changed Political Participation in China"
Description: As social media networks continue to become commonplace and present in our digital lives, a metaphoric public square has been created where political participation and discourse flourishes online. In China, a nation with more internet users than the total population of the U.S., the internet is becoming a hotbed for political participation and online witch hunts that are fueled by the Chinese internet's sheer numbers. As the internet continues to expand in China, the Communist Party is aiming to hold users accountable for their online content. But who really controls the power on the Chinese internet? In this course, we will look at internet statistics, political movements, and case studies, allowing students to question the internet's role as China, and the world, moves deeper into the digital age.

OLLI website: here.

OLLI's mission statement:
OLLI's mission is to foster accessible lifelong learning, individual growth, and social connection for mature learners age 50+ by providing stimulating opportunities to enrich the intellectual, social, and cultural lives of members, regardless of educational background.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cleaner Carries Students in Rain

The Chinese media reports a story of one good samaritan where China's mircobloggers have dissected the story to critique the morals of Chinese college-aged youth.

Photos uploaded by a Chinese microblogger show an older cleaning lady who had rolled up her pants to carry college students across their partially flooded campus. Due to heavy rain, parts of the campus were under water and this kind woman carried numerous students on her back to the teaching building that was across the flooded path.

When asked why she was willing to carry those students, Wu Xiuying said, “I saw how inconvenient it was for what the students were wearing, so I thought of carrying them across. The students were quite reluctant/embarrassed about it and afraid of tiring me. I have a child too, so while I might be just an ordinary janitor, I am also their elder, and therefore I should take care of these students.” (translated by ChinaSmack)

Microbloggers commented on the woman's kind heart but also criticized the students for whom she was carrying:

(就用李斌): "Is this considered a good thing? Are those college students still in day care?"
(ilzdmj): "Are these students handicapped?"
(怎么昵称都被抢注了阿): "College students or society’s parasites?"
(陈志坚物流): "If who she carried were kindergarten kids, we should praise this auntie for having a loving heart, but she carried [college students]…That just makes me want to yell at people."
(有时憋不住): "From this day forward, those girls (the so-called college students) who were carried on the back of this auntie have lost their qualification to be future teachers of the people!!!"
(translated from Weibo by ChinaSmack)

This is a great example of the misinformation that spreads throughout the Chinese internet. As my research depicted for my paper a few years ago, misinformation thrives on the internet and even simple news stories can be mis-interpreted when netizens becomes passionate about a given subject. This was clearly evident in the case of Grace Wang, where Chinese netizens mis-interpreted the photo of her intervening in a pro-Tibet/pro-China standoff where she acted as a neutral mediator. Netizens instead saw a Chinese "traitor" who was supporting Tibet's independence from China. This led to her parents being harassed in China, as well as the Chinese media calling her "the most ugly exchange student."

In this article, it appears that netizens have acted to paint a picture of these Chinese college students being carried as spoiled, lazy girls. But in fact the woman volunteered to carry the girls on their backs, and it should have been a story of utmost kindness and a good deed. As the woman was quoted as saying, the girls were initially "reluctant" and "embarrassed" to be carried across, and netizens who were not present should not try to characterize these girls. By simply reading a news stories or viewing images of this event, one does not take into account the persistence of the old woman or the direness of the situation itself. Instead, netizens choose what they want to see which fuels their comments and online actions.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fighting Corruption

Website, which posts and translates hot news items from the Chinese internet, translated an article that has become a hot topic on the Chinese web. One great aspect about ChinaSmack is that the website also posts and translates comments from netizens.

From the Chinese paper Global Times, the article titled "People should permit a moderate [or appropriate] amount of corruption in China" sparked outcry among netizens and ChinaSmack has reported the post received over 250k comments within the day. The article's author argues that "fighting corruption is not something that can be completely “fought” nor completely “reformed” because at the same time, it needs “development” to help solve it." The article goes on to argue that corruption in China, while a number one priority, will not go away any time soon. Unlike the western nations (the article notes Hong Kong, the US, and Singapore), where officials and politicians are wealthy, Chinese officials have low salaries which will often lead them to find money on the side and to make connections.

"China can never be a country where other aspects are very backward and only its government officials are clean. Even if it is for a time, it won’t last long." Overall the tone of the article insinuates that corruption in China, at least for the time being, is tolerable and necessary for the nation's growth and advancement. The article was posted following the firing of China's Railway Minister Liu Zhijun, but I have to also wonder if the article's author (or authors) would praise or condone the actions of the Human Flesh Search Engine in weeding out and targeting low-level officials involved in corruption.

Another aspect that dawned on me after reading this article and the posted comments was that the internet draws another parallel to the Maoist period of Chinese history. It appears that the internet has become the location for mass criticism, with aims to better the nation/Party and to call out individuals (in this case, the article's author).

The article says that while other Asian nations are also plagued with corruption, China has the most "pronounced sense of resentment towards corruption," which is clearly evident in the following comments posted to the original article:

蓝色多瑙河123: Corruption should be given the support of the law.

dbl128: From so many netizen comments we can see just how much the people resent corruption.

订婚坐花轿: Global Times: People should permit a moderate amount of corruption in China. Can poor people with low wages moderately go rob a bank?

潜风润梦: Moderate, moderate, what great wording! However, can one talk about moderation in corruption? As long as it is corruption, it is all excessive.

网易北京市网友: The discussion is very intense, but even if you criticize it, so what, nothing will change.

Best白: Bullshit, then the people should be allowed to choose their own government officials.

(source: chinaSMACK)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Burning Photos

Photos published online displaying a group of graduating college students in Dalian, China have been met with anger from college officials and netizens. The photos show the group of students taking a celebratory photo on the campus of their university as smoke from a nearby fire billows behind them. While the university itself was not on fire, the uploader of the photos wrote a caption that the students are "filled with love in seeing the school burn."

The Daily Mail Online article can be found here.

The reason for posting this article is that it provides a lesson, both for those caught up in the HFS and for those elsewhere on the global internet, that one's actions and uploaded content on the internet is subject to both viewing and commentary by all.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Buried Alive

Forgot to mention this news stories that hit the internet last week in which a young couple ran over an elderly woman and thinking she was dead buried her alive and ditched the car. The news stories sparked controversy due to the arguments over the declining morality of youth in China.

Reuters article can be found here.

China Rape Arrest

Allegations of rape against a Yongcheng city official have been circulating on Chinese microblogs. The official has been accused of raping ten girls and has been arrested and has confessed his actions. Not much information has been released on this story, especially concerning the role of netizens in venting their anger, however the press releases I've read all seem to insinuate that the arrest was a result of anger on the Chinese internet.

The story at BBC News: here.

Found a more extensive news article pertaining to this story, from Euronews.
“Officials these days are all like this. It’s really terrible,” wrote one Weibo user.
“These dog officials are everywhere. Only execution will sate the public’s anger,” wrote another.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

HFS in Taiwanese Context

Here is a review of another piece of literature I came across.

In the article "Analysis of Human Flesh Search in the Taiwanese Context," authors Tao and Chen seek to explain the significance of the human flesh search in Taiwan. Upon reading this article, I was intrigued because I have not previously done much exploration of HFS outside of mainland China, although I've read of instances occurring in Taiwan, South Korea, and other areas of Asia. To provide a frame of reference, the authors posted a table of primary HFS incidents in Taiwan and the authors who have documented the cases (left).

The authors do a great job at concisely describing both the positive and negative aspects that are depicted in instances of HFS:
The benefits include truth revelation, solicitation of public assistance, promotion of the internet as a leading media, fight against illegal behavior, and determent of unethical yet lawful behavior. Meanwhile, the drawbacks include privacy invasion, violence, exploitation for unintended purposes, low information quality, and restraint in the adoption of internet as a media. (187)

To conclude, the authors make a call for an increase in research on all fronts of HFS incidents, to both quantify cases and research that builds upon HFS theory (189-90).

Participation and collaboration by users play a vital role in the HFS process. On one hand, HFS practices, which are considered a manifestation of citizen empowerment and civil participation, are supported and applauded by other countries.On the other, majority of high-profile HFS cases in China have become aggressive and vicious, arousing research interest on the involved legal, privacy, and social issues. (187)

This is clearly evident in the way that HFS cases are examined and written by both eastern and western media. On the one hand, Chinese media applaud netizens who help track down corruption, while the western media views that and puts a spin that Chinese corruption is out of control and needs to be curbed. Another apparent case which I discussed in my paper is the case of Grace Wang - where the Chinese media named her "the most ugly exchange students" and where the New York Times ran an article citing her bravery and strength of character.

Tao, Yu-Hui and Chian-Hsueng Chao. Analysis of Human Flesh Search in the Taiwanese Context. (IEEE Computer Society, 2011): 187-190.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Crowd Sourcing and Disease Recognition

I came across BioGames, a product of UCLA's Ozcan Research Group, that uses a web game that players can play that helps doctors find malaria-infected red blood cells. The group has shown that "by utilizing the innate visual recognition and learning capabilities of human crowds it is possible to conduct reliable microscopic analysis of biomedical samples and make diagnostics decisions based on crowd-sourcing of microscopic data through intelligently designed and entertaining games that are interfaced with artificial learning and processing back-ends."

Why it works: "So far we have shown that this platform is capable of achieving high accuracies in diagnosing red blood cells that are potentially infected with malaria. We have shown this on a small scale with up to 30 gamers. We need your help to scale this up into a truly massively crowd-sourced platform. When you play a game, your responses are collected and combined with those of other individuals to produce an accurate overall diagnosis. Our goal is to achieve the same accuracy level of a medical professional. Having shown that the crowd's accuracy increases with the size of the crowd, we are interested in finding the most optimal number of individuals needed for accurate diagnosis."

Even more overwhelming is the fact that "using non-professional gamers we report diagnosis of malaria infected red-blood-cells with an accuracy that is within 1.25% of the diagnostic decisions made by a trained professional." Therefore, it is possible to aid third world nations that don't have the resources or trained professionals to examine microscopic data.

A great example of the power of crowd-sourcing and online collaboration put to good use; the same power that also controls the more negative aspects of human flesh search.

HFS Review of Literature

Recent scholarly work out of China and Taiwan has emerged pertaining to human flesh searching and research revolving around it. Thankfully, the subscriptions through my university's library allow me to access and read these articles, thus allowing me to keep up to date with some of the findings and journal articles.

One such article, "Reconceptualizing the Mechanism of Internet Human Flesh Search: A Review of the Literature" by Chian-Hsueng Chao, categorizes the published literature pertaining to HFS into various categories based on the extent and nature of the research conducted. For example, the HFS has been examined using very different lens throughout scholarly work, such as legal issues, privacy concerns, social issues, etc.

What is great is the inter-connectivity of research that is being written concerning privacy and the internet shadowing over HFS and its cases. For example, this article points out that the IT industry has a great deal of work to protect one's identity on networks as well as bringing justice against people who misuse network services to commit acts of privacy invasion, as seen through HFS.

Overall this article did a great job at summing up some of the major research themes pertaining to HFS. While all of the themes are unique, they are all inter-connected and delve into the heart of HFS. However, I was disappointed to find a lack of publication concerned with trying to place a historical context around the HFS. Instead, it appears that most of the literature focuses on the psychological aspects of crowd-sourcing and the legal implications of network servicing and privacy of information sharing. In this article Chao summarizes the bulk of psychological research into HFS into four main categories: deindividuation, bandwagon effect, opinion leaders, and collective behavior.

Regardless, the article did have some strong elements and rather than try to re-summarize some of the strong points of this article, I've pasted excerpts below.

A fantastic excerpt relating to the broad definition of HFS:
HSF and HSF engines are two sides of one coin. The human flesh search engine is an information search tool, such as Mop community and Yahoo! Answer. Whereas the term "human flesh" does not literally mean human flesh, but refers to human resources the search mechanism is based on. The HFS in broad definition refers to the collecting and dissimilating of information. HFS is a collaborative online behavior conducted by Internet users through responding to an open inquiry. Users’ participation and collaboration play a vital role in such a searching process. (651)

Great summary of the timeline of a human flesh search:
The typical process of HFS may be described below:First, someone publishes an open question or part of a question with some information or clue, such as pictures or videos on the online forums, social network, or Blog. The questions may be of interest or controversy depending on the readers. The netizens then respond while browsing the contents and clues attached. Some volunteers may transmit it to other social network sites (e.g. and issue anopen call to dig out the truth, which in turn pulls more respondents. In HFS, many participants joint the discussion of the topic, and quite often during the HFS process, the unwanted publicity of personal information sometimes lead to public harass both online and in real life to the targeted HFS object. (652)

What this passage evoke in myself was the question of what stories get picked up by an HFS? I'm sure there are other content posted to the Chinese internet with hopes of sparking interest and HFS-like mentality that never take off. It would be interesting to research more deeply what elements of the stories that receive the most attention are the factors which attract netizens to respond.

Personal information in the west vs. the east:
In Western countries, personal information and privacy are considered more important than freedom of expression. In Taiwan, the information of the HFS targets are considered publicly available. With the newly amended of Personal Data Protection Act, people who disclose other persons’ personal information in the Internet are illegal. If the netizens releases wrong material during the HFS process, the victim parties can bring civil claims against netizens. (652)

A very important aspect to HFS, as the legal implications surrounding the sharing of private information is still very much a gray-area on the mainland. Can it be argued that the reason that HFS isn't as prevalent in western countries is due to their long-embedded notions of privacy of personal information? Or is it because of the large web population present in Asian nations?

Chao, Chian-Hsueng, Reconceptualizing the Mechanism of Internet Human Flesh Search: A Review of the Literature, (IEEE Computer Society, 2011): 650-655

Thursday, May 3, 2012


I made a Weibo account this morning to "try" to see if I can locate microblog posts on my own without having to go through already-translated western media sources to find out what's going on over on the Chinese internet.

As I began to set up my profile, I noticed the tabbed section on the top "广场" (Public Square), an area to keep up with latest trends and news (like Twitter). I just found this very intriguing because it relates to my research where I related the HFSE and crowd-sourcing in China to public squares and Big Character Posters of the Cultural Revolution - public areas in villages and towns where citizens would read up on the news and postings about recent denunciations.

Anyway, if you have a Weibo account, follow me: 柯文森212.

Chen Guangcheng and Microbloggers

China's micro-blogging community has been up in arms these past few weeks as the Cheng Guangcheng affair has unfolded. First they were concerned for his well-being when he escaped from house arrest, then they called out both in support of Chen and the CCP when he left the US embassy, and now once again the microblogs are alive expressing concerns for his safety. BBC News reports that netizens were active in voicing their opinions and concerns for Chen and the politics surrounding the situation between China and the US.

And Weibo users have been uploading photos of their efforts to push the Chen Guangcheng issue into the limelight in China, most notably by creating and posting "Free CGC" stickers:

Other messages of note from the BBC article:
"Although he is blind, he has only recently experienced true darkness." (from Weibo)

"Now is the time to criticise the American government, because the American leadership care about public opinion. The US participated in the misleading and deceiving of Chen in practice... they knew what fate would await Chen once he left the embassy." (Zhang Dajun 10)

"Why should you go to another country with your own country's problems? This person is creating opportunities for other countries to intervene in China's internal politics." (YouTube comment)

"Don't think that politics has nothing to do with you, unless you intend to live like a pig... don't say that other's suffering has nothing to do with you, because you cannot guarantee that such suffering won't fall on you one day. All for one, one for all." (from Weibo)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chen Guangcheng's Leave

Chinese netizens are once again missing the mark in directing their anger, this time falling into line with the Communist Party's call for the US to apologize for the Chen Guangcheng affair. One Weibo post taken from BBC News' article read, "The US has never paused its attempt to contain China and destabilise China!" But I was under the belief that Chen went to the US embassy on his own volition? Why should the US authorities apologize? For not handing him over?

Once again it's another example of Chinese netizens completely missing the mark. Instead of voicing outrage over Chen's decision to leave because Communist authorities were rounding up his friends and family and threatened him for their safety, or more broadly for the lack of political dissent allowed in China, netizens are directing their anger at the US for "butting" into China's affairs once again.

But level-headed voices prevailed, with Li Kaisheng, a professor at Xiangtan University in Hunan, microblogging, "When a blind man has been subjected to long-term illegal detention and has had to turn to a foreign embassy for protection, our foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin turns a blind eye to the facts and asserts that 'China is a country under the rule of law, and its citizens' legitimate rights and interests are protected by the constitution and its laws'."

Other messages of note from the BBC article:
"They always blame other countries for interfering with China's internal affairs. But why don't they ever consider why the people have lost confidence in China's own judiciary and would rather trust a foreign embassy?!" ("Milktea")

"The US should not interfere with the CCP's tyranny," ("Expecting Dawn")

"This is the CCP's turf. All people living here are slaves to the CCP and must unconditionally accept the CCP's violent rule."

Consent of the Networked Review

After a long wait brought about by coursework texts, I finally finished Consent of the Networked by Rebecca MacKinnon yesterday (and recommended it to others). MacKinnon opened my eyes to many of the issues surrounding the internet and the numerous organizations trying to keep the net free for everyone. Many issues were raised by MacKinnon questioning the very current debate over identity-verification vs. anonymity, who controls the internet, and how can the internet be strengthened to ensure everyone, regardless of location or what governmental regime one may live under, has a right to a secure and safe internet. After reading this book I have a better grasp on the issues surrounding the internet, many of which complement the Human Flesh Search Engine debates over anonymity and the Chinese government's right (or non-right) to censor political discussion online.

A theme that ran throughout MacKinnon's book was the hypocrisy among western governments and companies between having a free internet while working to build and sell the digital shackles overseas. The book opens citing Apple's 1984 advertisement which claimed that the introduction of the Macintosh computer would not be like Orwell's 1984 - as Apple repeated again when it updated the advert in 2004 featuring it's iPod product (p. 3). However, in China Apple consents to the Chinese government's demand and it's app store censors its apps related to the Dali Lama and Uighur exiles. MacKinnon harks back to Apple's visionary 1984 ad by saying "fifteen years later, Apple seems quite willing to accommodate Big Brother's demands for the sake of market access" (p. 115).

Furthermore, while the US State Department works to fuel research and pumps funding into technologies to enable internet access around government "kill switches" and mobile blackouts during times of political unrest overseas, MacKinnon points out throughout the book that many US-based companies provide the technologies that countries such as Iran and China utilize to fuel their censors and firewalls. MacKinnon also notes protesters in countries who were met with tear gas only to later find "made in the US" labels on the empty canisters (p. 195).

One of the issues discussed deeply throughout the book was one's right to free speech and open access to one's content on the internet (p. 128). Should service providers or governments have the right and ability to remove content? While MacKinnon argued that the right should not be held by the companies or governments that at present hold control over the internet domain, as this greatly impacts social groups and activists working to enact change especially in repressive regimes. I disagree - I believe that certain websites and mobile apps should be taken down when they target specific groups or harm society at large. Recall a recent controversy in which an app was released (perhaps last summer?) titled along the lines of "how to tell if your son is gay." The app was deemed terribly offensive and taken offline. This also brings up the issue of kids who use these apps or view web content and cannot form their own opinions on what they view. Regardless of age warnings or restrictions, children view and are aware of this content.

Furthermore, while I agree that everyone should have the right to free speech on the internet, at present the boundaries of free speech, at least in America, are being pushed on a daily basis. In my opinion, freedom of speech in America has turned our nation into a land of slinging insults and legal bigotry, a political election environment that runs on finger pointing, and produced a media base that values nothing. Therefore I question is the internet should be the open space that we should be aspiring to make it. If that comes about, any Joe Schmo can post hate speech and hurt our social ideals while hiding behind the First Amendment.

Regardless, the internet is becoming globalized and as MacKinnon made evident, how can we make changes to the internet that appease everyone (and all governments/institutions too for that matter) (p. 146). Facebook, she writes, is working to break down barriers among people and Zuckerberg believes that one should know all the little details about the people surrounding them in their life. His aim is to make Facebook profile information and contacts less private. However MacKinnon notes that websites such as Google Plus and Facebook have changed their terms of service only to be met with extreme outrage from people across the globe who are affected by this demolition of privacy. A large rift is building between first world citizens who stalk co-workers and classmates on Facebook, from political activists using Facebook and Twitter to stage protests and call for change who need anonymity to remain out of the clutches of the regimes they aim to change. Therefore, Facebook's beliefs fuel how it can be used by others, but due to its choke-hold as being the foremost social media website, it is a much needed tool across the globe (p. 152).

And to tie this book back to the contents of this blog, MacKinnon alludes back to the Anti-CNN blog of 2008 in China and how Chinese netizens can actually work in favor of the Communist Party. As seen with the Human Flesh Search Engine, Chinese patriotism and nationalism can fuel participation on the internet and it becomes evident that their work is actually strengthening the Communist Party's rule. As pointed out in my research, with many injustices facing the Chinese people such as restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and rampant attacks on the environment by government-run corporations, netizens seek instead to oust low-level officials and seemingly anonymous individuals who they feel "embarrass" China. Why not bring the attack to Big Brother?

All in all, MacKinnon's book was what I'd hoped it to be: informative in documenting the various efforts to keep the internet open and the implications of having government control content online in this environment of internet empowerment and the translation of internet activism to the streets.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chen Guangcheng's Escape

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng recently escaped from custody and fled to US protective custody at the embassy in China. Having been under house arrest, Chen managed to evade the guards and make his way from Shandong to Beijing, with the help of He ('Pearl') Peirong, as well as release a video of his safety.

In China, netizen activists are taking to forums and micro-blogging websites to priase the escape. In response, China's censors have been working to suppress online conversation. As a  result netizens are referring to Chen simply as "the blind man." Regardless, many mentions of Chen's prior whereabouts and escape are being censored and removed. One micro-blogger, Jing Huili wrote: "Never has the fate of a single blind man moved the hearts of an entire nation."

Netizens are comparing this recent event to the Bo Xilai scandal that has been unfolding in past weeks and spurring online discussion. It must also be noted that China's assumed stronghold on prisoners is decidedly weak, as Chongqing police chief Wang's fleeing to US protection brought about the Bo Xilai controvery and weeks later a blind man similarly escapes to the US embassy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Fat Years

Concluded reading The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung, an amazing work of fiction that eerily alludes to modern China and the nation's "harmonious" growth. Part mystery novel, part history lesson, part inner-look into a dystopian few-years-into-the-future China, Koonchung's novel is banned in mainland China and after reading the book it's not surprising. The plot focuses on a collective amnesia that has gripped China (set in 2013 after the fall of the US economy and China's "Golden Rise of Ascendancy") and a set of characters aiming to uncover 28 days that have gone missing from the public memory. The novel asks the question, based on the literary works of Lu Xun, plaguing the protagonist (Lao Chen): is it better to live in a good hell or a counterfeit paradise?

One of the novel's main characters, Little Xi, is a middle-aged Chinese woman who spends her time as an online activist, arguing via web forums and hiding behind anonymous user names throughout the novel. Whether Koonchung meant it or not, Little Xi turned out to be a great portrayal of the issues over anonymity on the web that are hitting China today, and how anonymity is one of the main means for Chinese to protest and speak out while living in the mainland. On page 178 Little Xi argues this point when she makes the claim that "the Internet is the people's Central Discipline Committee and virtual Public Security authorities."

"...The power of Western governments is given to them by the people, while in China the people's freedom is given to them by the government. Is this distinction really that important?" (146) The novel brought out many issues and had one liners that really forced the reader to contemplate China's future and stability. A theme that permeates the novel is whether or not Chinese should continue to remember the struggles of the past in the effort to move forward. The protagonist Lao Chen continually brings China's past political struggles to the reader's attention, particularly the Cultural Revolution and the Democracy Movement and economic openness of the decade following. One line in the book attributes these major events in China's political system to the changing personalities of its citizenry: "...he says that China's mentality transforms itself every few years" (122). The character who spoke this refers also to the return of Hong Kong (1997), SARS (2003), the Olympics (2008), among others.

The theme of increased freedoms (or lack thereof) brought to the reader's attention from this novel nicely compliments the editorial released yesterday by Ai Weiwei.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ai Weiwei and Web Censorship

Renowned artist Ai Weiwei, who is being held in China under house arrest, released an article in the Guardian about the Chinese government and their attempts at web censorship. To Mr. Ai, "the government computer has one button: delete."

Ai argues that the internet has given the Chinese people a new sense of freedom, one that is not offered by the state and one that can not so easily be taken away. "The papers try to talk about things, but even before they appear, everyone has talked about it on the internet." For once, he argues, the people of China have another source of media other than those which are state-run and netizens can exercise their own judgement about current events.

Even Ai cannot believe how much has changed in recent years due to social media and the spread of mass voices online through blogs and microblogs. But Mr. Ai believes that it is becoming more difficult for the Communist Party to control the internet and censor the voices of netizens. "Censorship is saying: "I'm the one who says the last sentence. Whatever you say, the conclusion is mine." But the internet is like a tree that is growing. The people will always have the last word – even if someone has a very weak, quiet voice."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Search Engine hosted by Jesse Brown

This morning I discovered and listened to TVO's Search Engine hosted by Jesse Brown's podcast for "The Human Flesh Search Engine," the podcast's seventh episode. Examined are the implications of the Human Flesh Search Engine in mainland China.

The podcast discusses how many of these cases are small social victories that aim at local governments rather than the larger central government, and how the central government accepts and evens welcome this type of behavior. Interviewed is the producer of Invisible Killer (read below), who does not feel the internet represents the majority. However, the host, Jennifer Pak, continues to argue that in a governmental system were people feel injustices are covered up, the HFSE acts as the "imperfect solution in an imperfect system."

One story which was mentioned was Beijing's movement to install spyware and blocking technology in all new computers sold in China, and the angered response of netizens. The spyware aimed to block all pornographic content and websites with sensitive issues against the government. China's state media ran a news expose about how easy it is to search using Google and have porn pop up. They interviewed one college student who claimed his friend lapsed into a porn fixation due to images he came across while doing an internet search. Netizens felt the interview was a little too perfect and investigated, finding that the boy was actually an intern at the news station that interviewed him. His name and contact information were all posted online, including the information of his girlfriend. This was an instance that I had not heard of!

The podcast did refer me to a recent film that was produced in China called Invisible Killer. Invisible Killer (无形杀 - 2009) is a film about two people who meet and fall in love through the online game World of Warcraft. The woman has an affair and her partner, knowing only this other man's World of Warcraft username, attacks the other man online with the help of netizens. I'm now on the (online) hunt to find this film (with subtitles)!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Published to ScholarWorks

Because of my contribution at the recent history conference hosted by the UMass Boston History Graduate Student Association, my research paper, "The Human Flesh Search Engine: Democracy, Censorship, and Political Participation in Twenty-First Century China," has been published to UMass Boston's ScholarWorks. ScholarWorks is a depository for storing scholarly works chosen by the departments at UMass Boston. To view it, click here.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Online Discussion Amid Censorship

Amid the Bo Xilai scandal that is currently rocking China's government, netziens in China are finding ways to discuss and dissect the news even as the Communist Party steps up its censorship of all online material related to Bo Xilai. The scandal of late involves prominent Bo Xilai (who was slated for a high government position) who was recently removed from his post after failing to adequately address the Wang Lijun incident. Furthermore, his wife was just investigated into the death of a British national who was caught up in this affair.

Netizens are using methods to bypass government filtering on micro-blogs and web forums, using keywords that represent figures in the scandal instead of using their real names - which are heavily targeted and taken down by online censoring. While the government continues its censorship over the issue, the BBC notes that it appears that most of the posts "praise" the actions of Beijing. Beijing released a commentary urging the people to support the government's actions as this controversy is investigated and cleared by the government. Wang Feng of the Brookings-Tsinghua Centre for Public Policy said "for the last 30 years this is the biggest scandal we can think of" calling it "unprecedented" in Chinese modern history.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Beijing Hacked

While the Chinese internet is rigorously controlled by the state, it appears that Anonymous China has the means to break through the "Great Firewall of China" when the group defaced hundreds of government websites this past week.

The new homepage set up by Anonymous provides links to bypass the "Great Firewall" and a message to the Chinese people (pasted below). However, from the screen shot I'm posting here from International Business Times, the message can be seen as written in English, and I wonder if it was posted in Chinese and this is merely a translated image for the American audience...

The message:
"All these years, the Chinese communist government has subjected its people to unfair laws and unhealthy processes," reads the statement. "Dear Chinese government, you are not infallible, today websites are hacked, tomorrow it will be your vile regime that will fall."

It contains also a message directed at the Chinese people: "Each of you suffers from the tyranny of that regime which knows nothing about you," reads the message. "We are with you. [...]The silence of all other countries highlights the lack of democracy and justice in China. It's unbearable."

(source: International Business Times)

China Mirco-Blogs Back Online

Micro-blogging websites were frozen in China for two days after rumors and posts about a coup in Beijing were discovered by the government. While the reports were speculated as being rumors, it appears from the BBC's article that rumors spread around the Chinese internet because there is no mainstream outlet for rumors to thrive such as in America. Furthermore, Beijing appears to be having a difficult time appointing top government officials as it reshuffles its government this year.

I touched upon this tabloid sensation briefly in my research - that a lack of gossip tabloids in China fuels the internet as becoming a space where rumors begin and grow uncontrolled. The state's media bans tabloid and sensationalist gossip from being published, but it finds a home on these web forums where those who in the past have been targets of the HFSE gain notoriety and "web space" as quickly as Hollywood film stars. And this phenomenon because all the more dangerous because discerning truth from fiction on the internet can be near impossible.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

UMass Boston HGSA

Presented my research at UMass Boston's History graduate Student Association's first graduate history conference entitled "The Value of Historical Work" this past weekend.

As a result of the conference the various discussions and questions from the audience, many questions into the Human Flesh Search Engine have arisen. The most basic, where did the name originate? Why this literal meaning of the phrase? My answer is that what began as a human-run method of collaboration to uncover obscure information faster than accessing a database or offline medium has evolved into a human-run method of collaboration which targets humans.

Another topic that seemed to be of interest was comparisons to the internet in America, most notably the growth of online collaboration. I've recently been thinking about this area myself as I see echoes of the HFSE on websites such as Tumblr and Reddit, not to mention the recent controversy of potential employers insisting interviewees to turn over their Facebook passwords. However, what about the internet in America stops online collaboration from turning into a witch hunt?

Another current event to consider - how web groups aimed to target corrupt governments and incite protests thrive on internet anonymity - just look at the group Anonymous.

The conference also allowed me (with help from the audience) make deeper historical connections to the Cultural Revolution-era of Chinese history. On one sense, the HFSE is powered by young, college-aged students who are utilizing the internet and HFSE to enact justice. This is comparable to the Cultural Revolution which was powered by Red Guards of the same age-group who were mostly urban youth who left the cities to live among the peasants. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Name-Verification Advancement

BBC News has reported that China is continuing to extend control of the internet over netizens, requiring more users to register for websites using their real names and establishing their identity on the internet.

For most websites, such as micro-blogging websites like Twitter or most blogs, netizens around the world can create usernames and register on the websites with little more than an e-mail address to verify registration. Once completed, netziens are not required to verify their real identity or names.

However, in some areas in China, the government is requiring users to register using name-verification to prove their identity, thus eliminating any thread of anonymity that might be granted to netizens on the these websites. Real name-verification will allow websites, and thus the Chinese government, to discover the identity of the author of any post on these websites.

The Chinese government is initiating the spread of these changes to curb "irrational voices, negative public opinion and harmful information" on Chinese microblog websites. The government says that many hide behind anonymity on these microblogging websites and use that ability to cause dissent and spread malicious rumors. The speed of information not controlled by official media on these sites worries officials, who are banking on the success of these pilot name-verification programs in major cities across China.

This brings up many questions - if you deem yourself a citizen of the Internet, are you then required to establish identity? Is anonymity on the internet a thing of the past? And what is the Chinese Communist Party's thought process for initiating these online reforms?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Daedalum Films Presents (Part II)

After obtaining the password for the second part of Daedalum Films' documentary "Human Flesh Search Engine," I eagerly went to view the remaining part of the film and am here with a review.

The second part of the documentary was titled "Context" and sought to explain how the internet is used in China, and why this phenomena can grow and thrive in China's cultural setting. Once again narrated by Luis A. Tapia, the film also took comments from four online personalities, including one man who has taken part in these online scavenger hunts.

It began by explaining the backbone of the search engine: forum websites (or BBSs). These websites allow users to register under an anonymous online handle and can access the forums. Forums are available to post questions, images, and allows users to comment on the posts of others. The film explains that the forums grant users the ability to meet other like-minded people, and that many use the forums to gain fame for their online handle through their quick wit and expression.

What the documentary stresses is how these forums provide a means for netizens to express themselves and be heard - something that is not always possible offline. The search engine thus provides an internet democracy, where there is often a "need to make noise to make leaders notice." I loved how the film brought up the internet demographics in China, the largest web population of any nation in the world, which is made up primarily of young adults born in the 1980s or later.

But why China? Tapia's interviewees explain that there is a strong tie to the old Confucian ideal of righteousness that is evident throughout the Human Flesh Search Engine. The Confucian ideal stresses that if one sees something that's unjust, one needs to "right the wrong" in order to be deemed a noble man. To ignore it is wrong.

Lastly the film compared similarities between the search engine and the Cultural Revolution, but went on to stress that while similarities exist, these two events are still very far apart, and that the actions of the past do not appear to be resurfacing in the present. I felt this was a strong argument that I completely agree with.

I felt this was an amazing documentary that was both well-made and informative, that brought to life many of the cases and sentiments that will be discussed and posted on this research blog.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Daedalum Films Presents

"Human Flesh Search Engine" is a short documentary film by Daedalum Films that seeks to find out "what [the Human Flesh Search Engine] can it tell us about modern China." Directed, produced, and narrated by Luis A. Tapia, the documentary does an amazing job of bringing the Human Flesh Search Engine to life, delving deep into its origins and bringing faces to many of the online investigations that have both enacted justice and brought down the lives on those targeted. The film is cinematically beautiful and directs the viewer's full attention from start to finish.

The documentary begins with Part I: Origins and Cases which introduces the phenomena and the origin of it's name. Tapia explains that the direct translation of the name "Human Flesh" is most notably used in all instances of this "online scavenger hunt" being displayed notoriously in western media. Yet he questions if this literal translation is appropriate - when in fact the term "human-powered search engine" might better serve. Throughout the film Tapia's knowledge of Chinese culture and command of the language are apparent.

The film gives a strong background on how the term was coined and became popularly used in China from it's beginnings with and the "human-powered" search engine's spread throughout other forum-based websites. As the film delves into some of the most notorious cases in recent years, Tapia uses a wealth of knowledge for each instance, citing websites where the search engine began, and including photos and video footage when available. The documentary continues to showcase the galvanizing effects the stories have on netizens, and how those netizens have worked to uncover the identity and location of those at fault, mentioning how the search engine's mob mentality can ruin the lives of those targeted, but also bring about justice to others.

What I really appreciated was how Tapia mentioned the positive aspects of the phenomena; that the human-powered searches are not solely used to uncover the identities of those who commit wrongs to society. As mentioned in my thesis, the documentary explains how the search engine masses can work to locate missing people, as seen in the aftermath of the Sichuan Earthquake or through the website Ren Rou Wang.

My review of the second part should be coming shortly - at present a password is required to view it on Daedalum's website, which I've inquired about how to obtain.

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.