Violent Actions On The Internet: Tit-For-Tat

(yWeekend)  An "Internet Thug" Denies Using "Internet Violence": I Overreacted Because You Crossed The Line.  By Deng Yanling (邓艳玲).  August 23, 2007.

[in translation]

He claimed to be "a child from a poor family and thoroughly grassroots."  He used the Internet platform to solicit donations for charitable purposes.  Over the past three years, he has helped at least 30 persons.  He is known as the number one Internet civil aid-provider.  As the deputy chief editor of an Internet web portal and the general manager of the media centre, he lives in a small apartment shared with someone else.  He spends most of his spare time on organizing netizens to join campaigns to solicit donations.

But he has not gotten a lot of praise.  He has been characterized as publicity-seeking, harsh and cold-blooded.  Two years ago, he went to Chongqing to investigate the female university student Chen Yi who was "selling her body to save her mother" at the Tianya forum.  During the period of his investigation, Chen Yi's mother passed away and therefore he got the evil reputation as a "murderer."

More recently, he has accused the Shanxi female worker Guo Xiaojuan of embezzling 150,000 in donations after completing her tumor-removal surgery.  He spent his own money to travel from Shenzhen to Shanxi to conduct his investigation.  But his action was regarded as immoral and an example of Internet violence.

He is Bafenzhai (八分斋), whose real name is Sun Guoyu.  He believed that Guo Xiaojuan was "swindling the donors" and he wanted to sue her to get the donations returned to help other worthy persons.  But a lawyer said that Guo Xiaojuan has the absolute right to spend the money as she sees fit.  If he were to sue, the changes of winning are very low.

On the evening of August 8, Bafenzhai went on television to apologize in tears.  He said that Guo Xiaojuan has "ran way with the money."  As such, he bores the responsibility for being lax in supervision.  Between August 10 and 14, he went with another netizen to Qixian, Shanxi to investigate the case of Guo Xiaojuan.  Between August 16 and 20, he published an investigative report on the Internet running almost 20,000 words, together with all sorts of photographs of the scenes and the bills.

The following is an interview of Bafenzhai by Youth Weekend.

Q: Is this case closed?
A: (bitter laughter)  Ever since Guo Xiaojun took the money and ran, the case is closed.

Q: So why do you want to sue her?
A: Although we had a verbal agreement that she will turn the remaining money after the surgery to help other needy people, I cannot force her to do so.  When I went to Shanxi to investigate, I saw that her home is a house with 200 square meters in area and she has television, refrigerator, stereo and other consumer electronics in her home.  Her family was not as poor as she made out to be.  According to my investigation, she was not poor before because she visits upscale places frequently.  She has deceived the kind-hearted netizens.  She was deceiving the donors and this is absolutely intolerable.

Q: You want to sue but lawyers believe that you have no legal basis?
A: The law recognizes that the money was donated to Guo Xiaojuan and she has the absolute right to dispense with the money as she sees fit.  We have no right to direct that money.  But I have eyewitnesses as well as physical proof that this was a swindle.  The nature of the case has changed.

Q: As the person who organized the donation campaign, you only thought about investigation after "something went wrong."  Why did you not investigate in the first place?
A: Our basic principle for helping people is "women and children first, young people first."  If someone decides deliberately to carry out a deception and we were anxious to help, we could not help but be deceived.  Even if the legal system is perfect, there will still be swindles.  Besides, our actions are illegal to begin with.

Q: Is it illegal to solicit donations?
A: According to China's <Public donation law>, only foundations, non-government enterprises and social organizations can organize to solicit and receive donations.  We are trying to get the "Kindhearted Special Zone" to become a civic charitable foundation that may legally solicit donations.  But that is a "maybe."  According to the Civic Affairs Bureau's <Administrative Rules for Foundations>, the basic capital for a foundation must not be less than 2 million yuan.  So we must get at raise 2 million yuan or else we can forget about it.  Therefore, each of the campaigns run by the "Kindhearted Special Zone" is actually illegal.  But the government has pretended not to notice out of moral support.  The disposition of the donations can only depend on the moral force of the netizen because there is no effective system of supervision.

[When Guo Xiaojun was interviewed by the media, she said that she was not completely healed yet.  She asked for a waiting period of three months.  If her condition was stable, she would donate the remaining money to other needy people.  She said, "To love others, you must begin with loving yourself" and "If you want to save someone, you want to make sure that they are completely saved."]

Q: Why are you so harsh on a 25-year-old woman who just had surgery to remove a tumor?  What can't you wait three months like she asked for?
A: How can you say that I am not tolerant towards her?  I went to perform music in the streets in order to raise money for her.  I personally took her to Beijing to have that surgical operation.  When she returned to Shanxi, I did everything possible to persuade her to back off through every possible channel.  At this time, there are other people trying to handle this matter apart from herself.  Professor Yu Chunlong of the Beijing Sanbo Hospital operated on her and he said that the tumor has been excised with one hundred percent certainty of success.  Besides, that tumor was not malignant.  Now that she is saved, she does not care about whether other people live or die?  Other people need money to save their lives.  We have two such persons at this very moment.

Q: When you did this, people may say that "you are plotting to seize control of the donations"?
A: When we began to solicit donations for Guo Xiaojuan, she promised to donate any remaining money to other people.  She knows that the objective at "Kindhearted Special Zone" is to save the needy and not to relieve poverty.  Before her case, we saved Li Fangfang who had acid poured on her and she donated the remaining money to save other people.  Li Fanfang wanted to use the money for cosmetic surgery, but unfortunately we have limited funds and we can only use the money to save lives.  We cannot worry about other things.

Q: No matter whether it is Chen Yi selling her body to save her mother or Guo Xiaojun swindling the donations, you were the one who offered to investigate.  Actually, who gave you the right to investigate?
A: In the matter of Guo Xiaojuan, I was not only the organizer but I was also a donor.  Since our original agreement has been violated, I definitely needed to find out the truth of this case and gave an accounting to the netizens.  In the case of Chen Yi, I was purely an investigator.  The case was discussed heatedly on the Internet and the accusations were flying everywhere.  But nobody actually went out there to investigate.  So I thought that rather than screaming and yelling, I should investigate and calm things down.

Q: Since nobody else was going, you went ahead?
A: I am an activist.  Rather than sitting down and debating, I take action.  My mind acts linearly.  When I think about something, I will do it.  Why think so much?  By the time that you think about it through, you could have done it already.  I have been involved in Internet civil donations for more than three years.  I understand the issues very clearly.  It is reasonable but it may not be legal.  That is the dilemma of charitable donations.  I want to use my actions to make more people care about civil donations.  This will hasten the legalization of civil donations.  It would be a good thing to have a good set of relevant laws.

Q: In the matter of Guo Xiaojuan, you give people the impression that you are very aggressive.  Are you going too far?  What happens when things go wrong?
A: Whether my actions are excessive is based upon whether the other party's actions are excessive or not.  I can tell you clearly that I have held back a great deal in the case of Chen Yi and I have not disclosed all the problems.  As for the case of Guo Xiaojuan, I have also held back a great deal.  Besides, even if something goes wrong, I do not need to consider that.  Every person is responsible for his/her own actions.  Up until how, I have been wrongfully accused in the case of Chen Yi: namely, I took away the money that she was using to save herself and I was aggressively so.  But she did something wrong and even though we gave her the opportunity to rectify things, she did not care and she continued to lie.  And she wanted people to care about her feelings?  Hey, who is going to care about our feelings?

Q: Nobody forced you to get into charity?
A: A friend said that I was born with the need to help others.  Actually, it is nothing that noble.  My thinking is very simple.  I am a drifter who has lived most of the time away from home.  Due to my personal sense of being isolated and helpless, I tend to be sympathetic to people who are in trouble.  I understand when you are alone in the world, you need a helping hand.

Q: Actually, there are many people who have your experience.  But most of them did not choose to take your path?
A: I know.  Many people who are condemning me on the Internet think that I did this for fame and money.  They think that I have an ulterior motive.  Most people will not choose to get involved with matters that do not concern them personally.  At most, they will donate 100 yuan, or just a one yuan coin.  Nobody gives too much thought to such matters.  If there is a purpose or motive, then mine is very simple: I want to help as many people as possible.

Q: Do you know that your behavior has been condemned as Internet violence?
A: When I investigated Chen Yi in 2005, a commentator gave the title of Internet thug to me.  Thanks to him, I am the leading Internet thug.  But if you do what you do, can you prevent people from investigating you?  Besides, in my two investigations, the other parties did not object.  Chen Yi and Guo Xiaojuan were basically cooperative.

Q: Everybody has their own privacy.  Your investigations involve digging up their entire family history.  This seems to be digging for a reason to find someone guilty?
A: Actually, I am only disclosing the parts that are related to the matter under investigation.  No person can stand up to an investigation.  But you should have known that before you acted.  You should not have mobilized public resources and you should not deceived people, because many things will occur beyond your control.  In the case of Guo Xiaojuan, she pretended that she was an netizen.  That was completely unnecessary.  We are not helping just registered users, so this casts doubt on her trustworthiness.  She was also a big spender, and she bought a 698 yuan short skirt with a flick of the finger.  This showed that she did not belong to the class of person that we should be helping.

Q: Two years ago, when you went to investigate Chen Yi in Chongqing, many other netizens investigated you.  They questioned your previous experience, they doubted your character and your qualifications for conducting an investigation and they wondered about the reliability of your results?
A: I am just grassroots.  There is nothing to make a great deal about.  If you want to investigate me, please go ahead.  Perhaps I was not a good person before.  But I am trying to be a good person right now.

Q: If you want to be a good person who is charitable and kindhearted, should you not ask fewer questions about results and returns?  Isn't that blaspheming the idea of "kindheartedness"?
A: Kindheartedness is weak and rare in our age.  It is blasphemy only if it is being abused and used for deception!  Those who say that kindheartedness does not look for a return may be those who have never truly been kindhearted.  Maybe they are just observers.  Or perhaps they are not every observers, because they are only Internet commentators who say things in hindsight.  Charity from the grassroots may not save many people.  But the significance of our activities is that, firstly, we were able to help some people when they needed help.  Secondly, the mutual help that we gave to strangers in the street is the traditional virtue of the Chinese people and it should be praised and promoted.  If everybody can make themselves better first before helping others, then this world ...