Human flesh search engines

April 18, 2008

The term “human flesh search engine” may have first appeared, before translation into what sounds like Chinglishon this Chinese page (I can’t read it, so I have to trust this blog post).

 The term is defined there as, “to describe physical action brought on by a call to arms in chatrooms and online forums”.

This comes out of the recent controversy over the Olympic torch run, pro-Tibetan torch run protesters, and anti-pro-Tibetan-protest protesters.

Two highly publicized examples of the “human flesh search engine” phenomenon include a Duke University undergraduate and a Tibetan man in Utah.

One of the most recent example is found in the publishing of the personal information of a Chinese national who is a student at Duke university. She was branded a traitor because she was seen to be siding with some pro-Tibetan independence folks. With all her information published, including her national ID and parents address in Qingdao, the Human Flesh Search Engine has come down forcing her parents into hiding.

More details from the NYT:

The next day, a photo appeared on an Internet forum for Chinese students with a photo of Ms. Wang and the words “traitor to your country” emblazoned in Chinese across her forehead. Ms. Wang’s Chinese name, identification number and contact information were posted, along with directions to her parents’ apartment in Qingdao, a Chinese port city.

Salted with ugly rumors and manipulated photographs, the story of the young woman who was said to have taken sides with Tibet spread through China’s most popular Web sites, at each stop generating hundreds or thousands of raging, derogatory posts, some even suggesting that Ms. Wang — a slight, rosy 20-year-old — be burned in oil. Someone posted a photo of what was purported to be a bucket of feces emptied on the doorstep of her parents, who had gone into hiding.

“If you return to China, your dead corpse will be chopped into 10,000 pieces,” one person wrote in an e-mail message to Ms. Wang. “Call the human flesh search engines!” another threatened, using an Internet phrase that implies physical, as opposed to virtual, action.

The second case involves a Utah man who Chinese bloggers believed to have the man who tried to wrestle away the Olympic torch from Jin Jing in Paris a week ago:

There is mounting evidence that the Tibetan-American who lives in Utah, who has become a target of cyber-lynching due to rash accusations of having been the man who assaulted the crippled torch-bearer Jin Jing in Paris, is a victim of mistaken identity.   Evidently he was not even in Paris when the incident happened.

(Jin Jing) She’s been portrayed as the “smiling angel in a wheelchair,” just the hero that China needed to rally national pride in the face of the embarrassment suffered over Olympic torch relay protests.

Jin Jing, a disabled, little-known fencing athlete, is now a household name here, riding a wave of sympathy and state media publicity after clinging stubbornly to the torch while a Tibet supporter tried to wrestle it away during the Olympic torch relay in Paris on April 7.

What caught my attention was the role of Lenovo, who is the maker of the laptop I am using to type this on. Lenovo sponsored the torch run and Jin Jang in Paris, and their spokespeople acted as her handlers at press conferences:

The constant spotlight has been overwhelming, said spokespeople for Lenovo, the Chinese computer manufacturer that is a torch relay sponsor and chose Jin to participate in the relay. The Paralympics will be held in Beijing on Sept. 6-17, following the Olympics.

Jin left Thursday’s news conference on crutches, quickly.

During the 20-minute appearance, Jin avoided politics, although it dominated the reporters’ questions. Why was she attacked? She said she still does not know: “I hope you in the media can answer that for me.”

She repeated the Chinese government’s position on the issue — “Tibet has always been a part of China” — and when asked if she had considered the Tibetans’ point of view, the Lenovo minder sitting next to her whispered sharply.

“Everyone has their own point of view,” Jin said. But she added, addressing the protesters, “Your actions are wrong.”

I don’t mean this to be a generalized China bashing post, or a comment on media control or controversies in the country. But it is a comment on the level of jingoism that exists among the blogger set in China and among Chinese ex-pats, not unlike that which exists in the US among right wing blogoshpere. This is what nationalism looks like folks, what people often see in Americans (we both even in our own time want to boycott the French ). Both incidents described earlier take place in the US, meaning that critics of Chinese policy here face a backlash like that Europeans fear from radical Muslims. Chinese ex-pats being very vulnerable because of threats to relatives back in China. I doubt the Chinese government was behind either incident specifically, but couldn’t Beijing benefit from such behavior in general? Like, pressuring not only the odd dissident, but US corporations? 

 Update: The human flesh search engines have a new, ironic target

 

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