Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The woman who stomped kittens

This is what happened to her.

The short video made its way around China’s Web in early 2006, passed on through file sharing and recommended in chat rooms. It opens with a middle-aged Asian woman dressed in a leopard-print blouse, knee-length black skirt, stockings and silver stilettos standing next to a riverbank. She smiles, holding a small brown and white kitten in her hands. She gently places the cat on the tiled pavement and proceeds to stomp it to death with the sharp point of her high heel.

“This is not a human,” wrote BrokenGlasses, a user on Mop, a Chinese online forum. “I have no interest in spreading this video nor can I remain silent. I just hope justice can be done.” That first post elicited thousands of responses. “Find her and kick her to death like she did to the kitten,” one user wrote. Then the inquiries started to become more practical: “Is there a front-facing photo so we can see her more clearly?” The human-flesh search had begun.

Human-flesh search engines — renrou sousuo yinqing — have become a Chinese phenomenon: 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, run out of town. It’s crowd-sourced detective work, pursued online — with offline results.

There is no portal specially designed for human-flesh searching; the practice takes place in Chinese Internet forums like Mop, where the term most likely originated. Searches are powered by users called wang min, Internet citizens, or Netizens. The word “Netizen” exists in English, but you hear its equivalent used much more frequently in China, perhaps because the public space of the Internet is one of the few places where people can in fact act like citizens. A Netizen called Beacon Bridge No Return found the first clue in the kitten-killer case. “There was credit information before the crush scene reading ‘,’ ” that user wrote. Netizens traced the e-mail address associated with the site to a server in Hangzhou, a couple of hours from Shanghai. A follow-up post asked about the video’s location: “Are users from Hangzhou familiar with this place?” Locals reported that nothing in their city resembled the backdrop in the video. But Netizens kept sifting through the clues, confident they could track down one person in a nation of more than a billion. They were right.

The traditional media picked up the story, and people all across China saw the kitten killer’s photo on television and in newspapers. “I know this woman,” wrote I’m Not Desert Angel four days after the search began. “She’s not in Hangzhou. She lives in the small town I live in here in northeastern China. God, she’s a nurse! That’s all I can say.”

Only six days after the first Mop post about the video, the kitten killer’s home was revealed as 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 and the cameraman who filmed her were dismissed from what the Chinese call iron rice bowls, government jobs that usually last to retirement and pay a pension until death.

“Wang Jiao was affected a lot,” a Luobei resident known online as Longjiangbaby told me by e-mail. “She left town and went somewhere else. Li Yuejun, the cameraman, used to be core staff of the local press. He left Luobei, too.” The kitten-killer case didn’t just provide revenge; it helped turn the human-flesh search engine into a national phenomenon.

Read the rest of the article about online vigilantism in China in The New York Times Magazine's article, China's Cyberposse.


Anonymous said...

After reading the article on Chinese human flesh search engines, all I can say is... wow... I had no idea this went on and it seems like a very dangerous practice. Although I can certainly understand (and agree with) the outrage and desire for justice in the kitten killers case - this was a totally defenceless creature - in the other cases mentioned in the article, there seems to be a lot of 'grey areas' and misinformation involved. It just all sounds too 'big brother' for me. I am glad the kitten killers got caught ,though, and got what they deserved. What I don't understand is why they did it in the first place. Why would two seemingly respectable, professional people do such a twisted, disgusting, cruel (not to mention stupid) thing? Why jeopardize their livelihoods? For some sick thrill? Animals, I understand (most of the time)...people will always be a mystery to me.

Fred said...

Anonymous, they did it to make money. was a pay site for psychopaths, for animal sadists who got off on seeing animals crushed, literally. It's been shut down.

When I was researching this, I very unfortunately got a glance at some stills from the site which are still floating around the internet. However questionable this human flesh search engine thing is, and I agree it's highly questionable, those who were involved in the crush site did not get what they deserved if all it amounted to was losing their jobs and being shunned. They deserve much much worse.

Evil Shannanigans said...

I'm all for it, just like I am all for vigilante justice when the regular justice system fails. And I have to say in most cases, it definitely fails animals in all cases. Anyone who does this for fun or a thrill is a truly sick individual that does not need to be mingling with the general public. That could just be my disgust with the human race talking though.

Anonymous said...

However tempting, vigilante justice is evil, worse than the law of the jungle. How can one be sure that person the mob is punishing the right one? What of the woman pediatrician terrorised in the UK because someone in the crowd could not tell the difference between pediatrician and pedophile. Or the mobs who hanged black men in the US for rape or murder or.... because someone said it had to be a black man. or the mobs who burned witches. Or, or, or...

For that matter, how do we know that this woman *was* the woman who brutalised this kitten? Maybe she was, or maybe she just looked a lot like her, and fled because of the howling mob. We have no evidence way.

The point of laws and courts is evidence before punishment. Sure, I'd love to get my hands on the person who did this appalling thing. But I'd want to know this was the person who earned what I meted out. When the US, with billions poured into their justice system annually, is having to release almost every Death Row Inmate who gets a chance for a DNA reanalysis of the evidence from their trial, how can I be sure based on the word of someone who knows someone who saw something that might "prove" that this was the person who committed the crime?

In this lovely Third World nation where the police are often the biggest criminal gang in town, vigilante justice is all too common. Sometimes, the crowd does get the right person, and beat him/her to death. But all too often, someone in that crowd convinces their fellows that it's that guy who owns the piece of land that the accuser really wants to add to his own. Either way, the innocent and the guilt end up beaten or stoned to death for what are often minor crimes.

Is that what you want in your country, too? Sure, you'd use that power righteously -- but would your enemy?

And how do you correct your mistake once you've got it wrong?

Christiana said...

I never knew that human flesh searches was even possible. I definitely see the positive effects such as in cases like this where the lady was clearly out of her mind. But there can be so many negative effects such as her having to move from her town and having so much trouble starting a new life. Also when everyday citizens try to become the hero they can get hurt. I think it is great that people volunteer their time to run the site and try to find people who are crazy because the police sometimes are too busy with more serious matters, but consequences can be devastating and only time will tell with this site.

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