“Human Flesh Searches” – What They Are and How They Change China
October 6th, 2012

A recent article published on Tea Leaf Nation, and tweeted by Tricia Wang, explains what the flesh searches are and how they change China. Despite their ghoulish resonance, they refer to grassroots, collaborative efforts to share and probe personal information online with the goals of romance, kinship, justice, or vindication. They are netizen initiatives to solve cases of injustice and cruelty left unbalanced by a society that is not democratic and has no rule of law, where the government officials show innefficiency, detachment, or even smugness in the face of public tragedies or social injustices.

Which was the case of Yang Dacai, a government official, who’s grinning face while watching the burning bus that killed 36 people in August was tweeted via Sina Weibo, the China’s Tweeter. His dispassionate smile, contrasting the tragedy he was witnessing, and his expensive tastes in watches, belts, and eyeglasses that didn’t match the his meager wage as a government employee triggered the “cyber vigilatism” of the netizens (as Rebecca MacKinnon called it in her article) and prompted a flesh search. Yang was eventually dismissed from his position as chief of Shaanxi Safety Supervision Bureau.

Two other illustrative cases of flesh searches were the kitten killer from 2006, involving Wang Jiao from Heilongjiang province, and the incident from 2009 with pedicurist Deng Youjiao. Cruel Wang stomped a cat with the sharp point of her heel, an act that enraged netizens. Having no recourse for moral complaint, they took the matter in their own hand and started an investigation by means of flesh searches. Wang lost her government job. Pedicurist Deng Youjiao stabbed to death one of three Party official and was charged with murder. Wu Gan, a citizen reporter, launched an investigation that proved Deng acted on self-defense, after the three officials tried to rape her. Initially confined to a mental hospital, she was ultimately released without penalty.

Bottom line is flesh searches are essential to understanding China in the present. In an undemocratic country, where people have limited access to information about the activities of the public power that operates in a black box, flesh searches are Internet investigations, an asymmetrical form of protest, revealing misconduct and corruption of government officials.

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