Suicide MM's Blog
(Daqi, ChineseNewsNet blog)
At the beginning of 2008, an essay titled <The final blog diaries of the MM who committed by suicide by jumping down 24 floors> began to gain popularity at the various big forums: Tianya, Xici, Sohu, MOP, NetEase, KDNet, 55BBS, 19lou, Taobao, Touban, Baidu, etc.
This is the essay story of a woman named Jiang Nan, who recorded the last days of her life on her MSN Spaces blog The Migrant Bird That Flies North:
On December 27, she posted the final blog post. This blog post has more than 3,800 comments on January 20th.
Don't Say Goodbye
To my friends.
To this pretty but also filthy world.
The night is still and silent,
I quietly wait in solitude.
On the night of December 27, she tried to overdose on sleeping pills but she was revived. Her family stayed with her. On December 29, she jumped out of a 24th floor apartment and killed herself.
Then came the Tianya blog post <The final blog diaries of the MM who committed by suicide by jumping down 24 floors> from a netizen named Saga's Rubber Duck:
I don't know her. She is a friend of a friend. Yesterday night, my friend told me about this affair. I went to read her blog. I was overwhelmed by sadness.
On December 29, 2007, she leaped out of a 24th floor apartment and killed herself. This was because her unfaithful husband had asked for a divorce in order to be with a third party.
She is 31 years old, her husband 28 and they have been married for two years. They fell in love five years ago. The third party is a 23-year-old office colleague of her husband.
Suicide is often committed impulsively, but not in her case. Earlier in October, she had decided to kill herself. She locked her blog even though she continued to post. She re-opened the blog before she killed herself. First, she tried to overdose by swallowing sleeping pills. But she was revived. Then she leaped out of the 24th floor.
What sort of desperation drove her to choose the road of no return for the second time?
I want to say that this man is not worthy. I want to tell you to wipe your tears away, forget about him and continue to live. But it is too late already.
This is the photograph of her husband Wang Fei and the third party Dong Fang. This photograph was posted at Jiang Nan's blog on December 26 with these words:
Today, I posted the last photograph of this blog.
This is to commemorate my failed marriage and life, which I am unable to forget.
Daqi interviewed the netizen Saga's Rubber Duck. She explained:
I visit Tianya very often. So after feeling sorry for Jiang Yan, I came up with the idea of posting the story at Tianya. Frankly speaking, my thoughts were as follows: Nobody should die uselessly. I speculated that if Jiang Yan did not harbor bitterness and rancor, she would not have chosen to lock her blog first, continue to write and then unlock her blog just before her suicide. She also would not have posted the photograph of her husband and the third party on her blog. Therefore, as an outsider with no personal concerns, I exposed this story. That was what I thought and what I did.
Here is another report from NetEase:
This is based upon my personal knowledge.
Before December 29, Wang Fei came to work at Saatchi as usual and he looked happy. He worked every day, he had lunch with Dong Fang and he played games at the company (the company provides games for workers to relax). At this time, the Saatchi workers had no idea that Wang Fei had walked away from home two months ago. Actually, many colleagues did not even know that Wang Fei was married. This is nothing unusual in this company, because workers do not probe into the private affairs of other people. Colleagues in different teams know even less about each other.
The events before December 29 are clearly described in Jiang Yan's blog. I have no comment on whether that is objectively accurate. But I know for a fact that Wang Fei and Dong Fang vacationed in Rome. An informed source told me that Dong Fang hung around Wang Fei's hotel room at night, so that Wang Mei's colleague had to leave the room and check back periodically by phone: "Has she left yet?"
On the afternoon of December 29, 2007, Jiang Yan came to the Saatchi to look for Wang Wei and Dong Fang. There was a terrible quarrel. The first thing that Jiang Yan said to Wang Fei was: "Is it nice to make love to Dong Fang?" The colleagues saw that this was a family affair and therefore did not intercede. Besides, Jiang Yan was very emotionally perturbed and could not be restrained anyway. The building security guards came to check what was happening, and was told: "This is a quarrel between a married couple." At the time, Wang Fei admitted to the extramarital affair and asked Jiang Yan: "Please let us go." Jiang Yan said: "We have known each other for five years and we have been married for two years. When I was earning money so that you could study in school, you did not want me to let you go!" That was when I learned what the circumstances were. The final words from Jiang Yan as she left the office were: "What kind of company is this! There are no decent people in this company!
Frankly, this is unfair to most of the Saatchi workers. At the time, we all knew how Jiang Yan felt and we could tolerate these angry words of her. A female colleague was sobbing loudly because she was sympathetic to Jiang Yan's predicament. A person who came with Jiang Yan said that there was an unsuccessful suicide attempt on December 28. December 29 was the last day before the New Year's holiday. Many workers had already left and there were no senior managers present at the office. After New Year's Day, we came back to work. Wang Fei showed up as usual and he looked happy. He continued to work, have lunch with Dong Fang and play games. We thought that they had reached a settlement after things cooled down over the New Year. We did not imagine that Jiang Yan had leaped to her death on December 29.
On January 9, the company was suddenly swamped. Many friends at other advertising agencies began to use MSN to discuss this affair. With a single day, the entire Beijing advertising industry was talking about this affair. The company leaders went into crisis management mode.
This is based upon what I know. I personally think that Wang Fei is too emotionally shallow and callous. His wife is dead and he acts as if nothing had happened. This is frightening. But for the Internet rage, the Saatchi employees would not even have known and Wang Fei could have just kept going. This is scary.
On the evening of January 11, a notice from Saatchi was posted at Tianya: "After being apprised of the details of this matter, the company has decided to suspend the duties of employees Wang Fei and Dong Fang. The two will tender their resignations shortly, which the company has already approved. We hope that the family of the wife of Wang Fei will take good care of themselves.
On January 12, a post appeared on behalf of the Wang Fei side (see Tianya):
Concerning the very steamy hot "suicide incident":
1. In December 2002, the family of a young man paid the down payment for an apartment with the life savings of his parents. The young man did so in order to provide a stable "home" for his girlfriend. At the time, the young man was attending school and did not earn much in income. The family paid for the living expenses of the young man, who paid for the rent charges for the two for almost one year.
2. In early 2004, the young man got a job at an advertising company through his own efforts. They were able to move into the new home even though they were not yet married.
3. In 2006, the woman demanded the young man to choose between "separation" and "marriage" on the grounds that she must get married before she becomes thirty years old. The 25-year-old man did not want to abandon their relationship. Therefore, the two were hastily married on February 22.
4. One year after the marriage, the relationship was not working out. The young man worked in advertising, where the work was hard and involved overtime that ran across day and night. He did all this in the hope that his wife would tend to the home. But the opposite happened. While the young man worked long and hard for accomplishments, his wife accused him of coming home not often enough and not caring about her.
5. In 2007, the young man was getting good job results and he joined another company. His responsibilities increased but he did not get family understanding and warmth. The accusations and condemnations never stopped. Finally, he ended up with depression, rapid heart pulse and breathing difficulty. An outbreak at work landed him in a hospital where he was told to rid himself of mental pressures and relax. When apprised of the situation, the wife said: "Stop acting in order to win sympathy!" The young man had to rely on his 70-year-old father to come from Shanghai to look after him. The wife insisted to the father that the young man was just faking it.
6. In October 2007, the company organized a tour. The wife threw a fit when she saw the photograph of the young man with a colleague and had a big quarrel, even a physical fight. She began to inspect the young man's SMS, telephone call and Internet records. She hid the apartment title deed and demanded that the ownership be turned over to herself. After one month of this, the young man could not endure the mental stress and returned to his parents' home.
7. In late December 2007, the young man received a telephone call from the sister of his wife. She said that something might be happening to the young woman. The young man rushed back and learned that the young woman had swallowed 300 sleeping pills. The young man immediately called 120. At the hospital, the young woman refused to be get her stomach pumped and insisted on returning home. That night, the young man summoned 120 three times.
8. The young man was concerned about the young woman. The sister and father of the young woman also stayed with her. During that time, they stayed no matter what the young woman said. The next day, the sister of the young woman told the young man that he should stay away for a few days in order to allow emotional stability to return.
9. On December 29, the young woman and her sister and father appeared twice at the young man's office. Notwithstanding the entreaty of the sister and father, the young woman insisted that the young man must "jump out of the window." In order to stop the situation from deteriorating, the young man had to hide in the bathroom. The young woman took his mobile phone and sent an SMS to all his contacts. She also called his parents to insult them. This was the first time that she had ever called them during the two-year marriage.
10. The young man was at a loss about what to do in the face of all that was happening. On his way home, he fell ill. Then the sister of the young woman called to say that his wife had just leaped out of the apartment to her death. The family of the young man rushed to the scene. But it was too late.
11. Afterwards, the young man tried to arrange for the burial of the young woman. Due to the mental stress, he fell fill and he asked his family to handle the affairs.
The Internet is heaven, but it is also hell at the same time because both the real and unreal co-exist. No matter what, the truth will eventually emerge when the relevant organizations enter to investigate this case. We trust in the Internet, but we trust reality even more. And justice exists only in the reality.
But what is the other side of the story? On January 29, 2007, Jiang Yan's sister posted:
I slept for a bit and I woke up around 7am. I kept watch over her. My father came after 8am. Jiang Yan was sleeping all the time. I left around 9am to go home to see my son, who is ill. At around 2pm, I returned and I brought some food for Jiang Yan and my father.
At around 17:30, Jiang Yan woke up and she did not appear to be good spirits. She received an SMS from Wang Fei's father and she was emotionally upset. She threw the mobile telephone on the ground, she got dressed and she went out. I and my father went after her and asked her where she was going. She said that she was going to Wang Lei's office to confront him and the third party. We could not stop her, so we went with her.
At 18:00, we arrived at the Saatchi office. Wang Fei was there, but Dong Fang was not. Many people were working overtime. Jiang Yan charged in and questioned him. He shoved her into the ground. My father and I admonished him. Jiang Yan asked whether he and Dong Fang went to bed. Wang Fei admitted as such in pubilc. During this process, Wang Fei continued to exchange with Dong Fang. Jiang Yan detected it and swiped the telephone from him.
At 20:00, Wang Fei sneaked out amidst the chaos. Wang Fei's mother called (as she was not aware that his phone was in the hands of Jiang Yan). Jiang Yan took the call and said, "Hi, auntie. This is Dong Fang." Wang Fei's mother said, "You're not because your voice is different." Jiang Yan said, "How do you know that I'm not? Have you met before?" Then she hung up angrily. His mother kept calling and Jiang Yan kept hanging up. Jiang Yan said something like, "Your whole family is trying to help the third party and therefore you are all trash." Wang Fei's brother Wang Lei called and cursed Jiang Yan: "Do you want to die!?" Jiang Yan said, "Yes! I want to die. I am tired of living." Then Jiang Yan wanted to go to the home of Wang's mother. But she changed her mind and we went home instead.
Then Dong Fang called. I sensed that Jiang Yan was getting more and more agitated.
At 21:00, we got back to Jiang Yan's home. Wang Lei kept sending SMS and Wang Fei's father kept calling. He even called me and asked me to take consideration of the overall situation and accept the reality. I was very angry. I said, "Your whole family knew about the situation. So why didn't you tell us?" He kept coming up with sly excuses. Then I said, "I and my 70-year-old father have stayed here all night to look after my sister. But have you people done? This is now a matter of life and death but you have not shown your sincerity. As a parent, you must come back and get the two sides to solve this problem." His father kept coming up with excuses about not being able to leave his job duties and so on. Jiang Yan grabbed the telephone and accused him of being a failed father as well as a failed husband who only knows how to spoil his children. They talked three or four times over the telephone. Jiang Yan wanted him back, but his family kept coming up with excuses. Jiang Yan was getting very agitated.
It is now 21:45. My father went home. I thought that it was sufficient for me to accompany Jiang Yan. I was worried, so I kept talking with her to keep her relaxed. Basically, I had not slept for the past few days and I was very tired. Jiang Yan told me to go to rest. I went and lied down in the bedroom, but I did not dare go to sleep. I heard the window open in the living room and I rushed out immediately. She was holding a telephone and she laughed at me, "Why are you so nervous? I am only making a telephone call." I quickly shut the window and told her not to do anything stupid. I heard her call Wang Fei's father. I went into the bathroom and I heard her say, "You don't have to come. I'll be gone soon." I came out quickly. I saw that the living room window was open and there was no one in the living room. I called her name and I looked around the apartment. She was nowhere to be found. I thought: "It's over!" But I was still clinging to a hope because someone must have called out if there was a suicide. I called 120 and then I went downstairs. It was cold and windy. The place was desolate. There was only one security guard. I told him that my sister might have committed suicide and I asked him to accompany me to search for her. The security guard went in the general direction that I indicated but we didn't find anything. Then an old man came and said that it seemed someone had fallen down. My legs were wobbly and I sank to the ground. They pulled me up and said that I had to make the identification. I did not dare approach too close. I took a quick look. It was her. She lied there with a big pool of blood underneath her lower body. I knew that I could not go any closer because I would break down. I called my husband and told him what happened. He was very worried but he could not leave our ailing son. I called Wang Fei's father and I said: "Are you happy now that you have forced her to die!" Then the battery on my mobile telephone died. Many people came -- the police, the building management and the medical doctor. I made my statement. All along, I was the only person there. From that night on, Wang Fei never showed his face. Wang Lei showed up exactly once.
On December 30, Jiang Yan's sister wrote:
On the next day, I informed my father. He has brain obstruction as well as high blood pressure. But I did not dare inform my mother who has a heart ailment and just underwent heart surgery. We told her that Jiang Yan and Wang Fei have gone to Shanghai and therefore could not attend our family dinner on New Year's Evfe.
On January 2, 2008, Jiang Yan's sister wrote on her blog:
By now, I could no longer conceal it from my mother and so I told her. I nearly had to summon the ambulance service 120. On that morning, I went to retrieve medical report and I ran into Wang Lei. Since the suicide, the Wang parents have not made an appearance and they have not even called. Only Wang Lei sent some SMS to promise that Jiang Yan's burial will be taken care.
On January 4, 2008, Jiang Yan's sister wrote on her blog:
Wang Lei sent me an SMS to say that his father was coming to Shanghai by train to have a meeting. My mother requested to meet with Wang Fei and get an explanation from him ...
On January 5, 2008, Jiang Yan's sister wrote on her blog:
Wang Lei sent me an email to say that Wang Fei has entered a hospital to cope with the mental stress. At 4:30pm, Wang Lei and his father came to my home. We spoke for almost two hours. ... Wang Lei's father broke down in tears to express his sorrow and promised to compensate my parents ...
On January 8, 2008, Jiang Yan's sister wrote on her blog:
Wang Lei called me around noon to say that his father has high blood pressure and will therefore not take an active role anymore. So Wang Lei has been authorized to handle the matter ... That evening, he sent me an SMS to say that all matters must be discussed with his lawyer in the future.
On January 12, 2008, Jiang Yan's sister posted at Tianya:
Last night, I almost did not sleep at all as I thought over many things ...
On the evening of December 28, you and I had a long talk. You lit cigarettes and you calmly told me about everything. That was when I learned for the first time that when Wang Fei was still in school, you ate 3.50 RMB vermicelli soup with sour vegetables for lunch so that he and his elite fellow students ate 50 RMB lunches. You walked one hour to work and then back me again, in order to save money for Wang Fei. You wore 10 RMB clothes picked up from the sidewalk stalls while Wang Fei wore shirts that cost several hundred RMB and blue jeans that cost almost 1,000 RMB. Then Wang Fei began to work, but his several thousand RMB monthly wage was hardly enough for him to eat lunch or buy clothing. So he ended upon taking 500 RMB or 1,000 RMB from your wallet frequently. Then he began to earn 10,000 RMB per month. One day, he showed you a savings passbook with 100,000 RMB in it. He boasted: "Aren't I good?" But his next words sent a chill through your spine: "Your money is mine, and my money is mine."
Later on, you asked Wang Fei: "Let's travel abroad." But he said, "No way. I don't have the money." You said that you would pay and he cheered: "Great!" Then you pointed to the three wooden dolls on top of the television stand. You said that Wang Fei liked them because they are limited editions and that they cost several hundred RMB apiece from Taobao. I listened while tears came out for my poor little sister who was so beloved by our parents. I said: "This person is not worthy of your love. You have your work and you still have your family." ...
We are now separated as you have gone to another world. Wang Fei and his family are bearing a huge cross on their backs. According to the netizens, he has been fired by his company. Nobody knows what will happen next. I never realized that the force of the Internet could be so powerful. I can only reflect that people should never do anything bad.
I don't know what to do after your departure. I only want to have you buried properly. You and Wang Fei are still legally married, so the Wang family should handle those matters, legally and morally speaking ... You left your parents for me to take care of, but I don't know how much my own frail body can last. The Wang family has promised some compensation, but how can a human life be measured in terms of money? If this is a debt of conscience, I don't know how to assess it. But I still have to fight on behalf of my parents. If I am not around, then at least our aged parents can still have some protection.
Due to the position of the Wang family, you could not be buried. Our parents are filled with sorrow. Yesterday afternoon, after much consideration, I decided to call Wang Fei's father. Seven days ago, Wang Fei had cried in front of our parents and said that Wang Fei will continue to be their son. Although he had wronged us over many things, we were still hoping that he still a trace of conscience left. After all, you are gone and we don't want anything more to happen to those who are still living. Over the telephone, Wang's father was solemn and he said that all the previous promises still hold. He also said that he would call me back.
At some time after 8pm, Wang's father called me in an agitated state. He said: Wang Fei has lost his job ... Wang Fei will be written up in the newspapers on Monday ... Wang Fei has his sleeping pills ready ... I'm going to call the police ... I'm going to get a lawyer ... just you wait! ... et cetera ... you're the one who caused the Internet reaction ... you must announce to the Internet that we are still one family and we can resolve the matter among ourselves ...
Since you say that we are still one family, you should prove your sincerity and not make us wait. The sooner Yan Yan gets buried, the earlier her husband Wang Fei can be freed. The Internet events were spontaneously organized by netizens. Everybody is waiting to see.
Yan Yan, I hope that you can me buried in peace as soon as possible.
The sister who loves you
January 12, 14:00
On January 13, Daqi was able to locate the sister of Jiang Yan. She said that she only wanted to finish the burial services for Jiang Yan, but the Wang family was unable to do that. The body of Jiang Yan has been at the morgue from more than 20 days without being cremated. Previously, Wang Fei's father had offered some form of compensation but nothing has materialized. During the process, the husband Wang Fei accepted responsibility but he has never shown his face. Concerning the so-called clarification post on the Internet, Jiang Yan's sister said: "Now they even want to obliterate the existence of the third party, even though the evidence exists. We lost a family member and we did not want to file a lawsuit. Instead, they want to file a lawsuit against us."
On January 17, a group of netizens went to the apartment building of the family of Wang Fei. They entered the building and knocked on the fourth floor as planned. Here is the story:
A woman opened the door:
Q: Hello! Is the home of Wang Jun?
A: No. You have the wrong place.
Q: Then where is the home of Wang Jun? You know, the home of the Wang Jun family which forced the daughter-in-law from the 24th floor ... There are two sons, Wang Fei and Wang Lei.
A: Oh, a leap to death?
Q: Yes. She jumped off a building. Last October ... (about 2,000 words are not recorded here) ...
A: Is that possible? The sons are not married yet.
Q: They have been married for a few years already.
A: Well, they live downstairs.
Then we went down to the second floor and knocked on the door. A man came out and listened to us. After we finished our story, he said nothing although we could sense his outrage at what happened.
Finally, we went to the Wang home in apartment 302. We knocked and got no response. So we began to talk very loudly, although none of us used any foul language. We could clearly hear that someone was inside. We continued to talk. Whenever someone spoke, the rest of us kept quiet and did not interject. When that person finished, another person would take over to speak. We made sure that everybody could hear us.
The Wang home was in the middle of the floor. The two other families on the floor were listening in. We explained the story to one of them and apologized for disturbing them. So we stood in the hallway and continued for more than 10 minutes. Then we left our signs and we got ready to leave.
As we went downstairs, a fat man showed up and asked us some questions. We explained the story to him. This appeared to be his first exposure to the story, and he said that we should fetch the police. We said that the police do not handle these kinds of affairs. We said that Jiang Yan could not be cremated because her awful husband has gone into hiding with Dong Fang in Shanghai.
Then we got downstairs and we began to post the banners. Suddenly more people up and they wanted to find out what was going on. So we told them that Beijing News reported that Wang Fei and Dong Fang have been fired, that the Wang family let the third party woman stay at this apartment and that Wang Fei embezzled several hundred thousand RMB to hire a lawyer but refused to let his wife be cremated. He even wanted to sue to gain possession of their apartment.
Here are the signs and graffiti posted by netizens outside the Wangs' apartment building: "A blood debt must be repaid with blood."
In the matter of Jiang Yan, it was understandable that netizens want justice served on the Wang family. But there has to be some consideration as to how far such action can go. If they step past the limit, they will have to bear the legal consequences. For example: it is a serious offense to lodge false charges without supporting evidence, or to insult, or to slander others. When the transgressions are serious, the public security bureau may intercede upon complaints from the Wang family. It is a relatively easy matter to locate any transgressors through the IP address.
(SCMP) Vigilantes at the click of a mouse. Vivian Wu. September 2, 2008.
By any measure, Wang Fei has had a nightmarish eight months. The former Beijing advertising company employee has been tried and convicted online for his wife's suicide, has lost his job, his parents' home has been besieged by vigilantes and he has had death threats.
Mr Wang's descent into virtual and real-life torment has been propelled by his appearance on a mainland entertainment website search engine known as Renrou, which literally means human flesh. Renrou is a kind of information collection service and Mr Wang is just one of several people it has plucked from obscurity and placed at the mercy of an online mob.
He is trying to seek legal redress against the website that initiated the netizens' hunting campaign but, after three court hearings, he is yet to get satisfaction.
Mr Wang's private world became public late last year when Net users latched on to the "death diary" of his late wife Jiang Yan .
Jiang, then 31, jumped from the 24th floor of a Beijing building in December, but not before chronicling her plans to kill herself in a blog over three months. The woman was apparently heartbroken about her husband's alleged affair with a 23-year-old colleague.
Jiang's diary was quickly picked up by Net users who, in turn, used Renrou to bring personal information about Mr Wang, his alleged mistress and his family to the surface.
Such search engines differ from traditional ones, such as Google or Baidu, in that they allow an individual to ask a question of tens of thousands of people, who use their resources to provide the best answer. When the search is targeting an individual, everything about them can be exposed on the internet surprisingly quickly.
Mainland entertainment website mop.com created the human flesh search engine as a way for people to exchange information on everything from the address of a restaurant to the price of cosmetics. People who needed information promised to pay a certain amount of virtual mop.com credits called MPs as a reward to "hunters" - Net users who provided the best answer, whether based on their own experience, online records or word of mouth. The credits are used to buy value-added services on the website.
In Mr Wang's case, the hunters provided personal details about his life and, as more people joined what was becoming a witch-hunt, the campaign of revenge spilled over into the real world in the form of harassment of Mr Wang's employer, a renowned advertising company which eventually fired him and his alleged mistress as a result of the unwanted publicity. The home of Mr Wang's parents was surrounded for weeks by an angry mob carrying placards and he, his parents and his new employer fielded a stream of threatening letters and phone calls.
In March, a depressed Mr Wang sued the web master - who designed a commemorative website using Jiang's diary - and two other websites for defamation in the Beijing Chaoyang District Intermediate People's Court, claiming damages for mental suffering. The case has been called the No 1 Renrou case in China and its complexity has prevented the court from handing down a decision yet.
But it's not the first time the search engine has drawn attention because of its destructive potential. A man posted a photo of a girl on mop.com in 2001, saying she was his girlfriend but others contested the claim, saying the woman was Microsoft model Chen Ziyao and released her personal information to prove the man was lying.
In February 2006, somebody posted video footage showing a woman smashing a kitten's head with her high-heeled shoe. The pictures provoked outrage and, within six days, the cat killer, the video maker and the distributors were identified. All lost their jobs as a result.
In the past few weeks alone, thousands of people joined the campaign to find the missing father of Chinese Olympic shooting gold medal winner Guo Wenjun after the 24-year-old said in a post-match interview that she dreamed of meeting up with the father she had not seen for a decade.
Out of sympathy and enthusiasm to reward their star athlete, netizens inundated the human flesh search engine with requests for information about Guo's father, providing all kinds of details about the family, including Guo's home town, anecdotes about her childhood and family, and speculation about the relationship between her parents. As the digging went deeper, Guo's relatives and friends started to complain of invasion of privacy and Guo's mother begged the public to leave them alone, saying her daughter had not authorised the public search.
Similar searches played an eerily significant role in helping ultra-patriotic youngsters vent their anger towards pro-Tibet protesters who tried to snatch the torch from wheelchair-bound former Paralympian Jin Jing during the Paris stage of the Olympic torch relay. Hailing Jin as a national hero, users posted images of the protesters and soon their identities and home addresses had been revealed.
More recently, the human flesh search engine added to the media buzz around "iPhone Girl", a Shenzhen factory worker, whose smiling photos were found on an iPhone sold in Britain. The search engines helped uncover information about the woman and aided her rise to internet phenomenon.
But the intense media interest in the woman, an employee at the Shenzhen factory of electronics giant Foxconn, has reportedly shocked her and made her afraid of the media spotlight.
Nevertheless, such search engines have enormous support. Many believe the searches are an effective way of exposing people who need to be punished for behaviour that might not be illegal but warrants condemnation in the court of public opinion.
There is even a popular saying: "If you love him, send his details to the human flesh search engine for everything about him. If you hate him, send him to the human flesh search engine, because it's hell."
Others praise the searches as a form of online democracy and a sign of progress for public participation in public affairs. Supporters claim that their activities to "safeguard justice" might not be legal, but they perform a necessary service. Many are merely happy to join in the anonymous fun.
However, some surveys suggest that public opinion is not on Renrou's side.
A China Youth Daily survey in late June found that roughly 80 per cent of the nearly 2,500 people polled thought the operators of such search engines should be disciplined, while about two-thirds said the site could become a new channel for personal anger and revenge. About two-thirds of the respondents also thought the search engines infringed on privacy while 20 per cent feared they themselves could become search targets.
Fudan University sociology professor Yu Hai said that Renrou cases were becoming witch-hunts and legal regulation was urgently needed.
"Everybody can make a moral judgment, but not everybody should work as a police officer," Professor Yu said.
He said that, on the one hand, people saw the service as a way to get poetic justice but, on the other, the disclosure of personal information put people at risk of being bombarded by condemnation, illegal harassment and real harm. Professor Yu said that among the detrimental aspects of the search engine were threats, defamation and invasion of privacy, which in many cases had led to serious mental or even physical harm.
Internet law professor Liu Deliang , from Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, said "the expression of opinions should follow a basic principle and [be] within the boundaries allowed by the law.
"Nobody should express themselves in a libellous way," Professor Liu said. "The problem with the human flesh search engine is not created by the software itself; rather, it was caused by the lack of legal definition and poor self-discipline of behaviour in a virtual world.
"Previously, the internet was seen as an anonymous world. However, the human flesh search engine is turning the anonymous individual hidden behind an MSN name or a chat room ID into a person in the real world." He said that to remedy the problem, people had to be educated about personal rights and the fact that there were clear limits on behaviour and expression, even in the cyber-world.
Professor Liu also said the mainland lacked a clear definition of privacy and of what personal information should not be disclosed.
Legislators have been paying attention and a key member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Zhu Zhigang , proposed revising the criminal law to limit public disclosure of personal information and invasion of privacy.
But the legislator's proposal aroused another wave of argument. A contributor in a popular online chat room said: "The engine is a magic double-edged sword. The more it is discussed in the mass media, the more attention it draws, and the more people will join the hunt.
"There are bad people who behave badly, so the hunting will never stop."
(The Wall Street Journal) China' Internet Culture Goes Unchecked for Now. By Sky Canaves and Juliet Ye. September 12, 2008.
While the Chinese government keeps a tight grip on Internet news and political discussion here, it has done little to prevent online defamation and invasions of personal privacy. Now, as the national legislature looks to tighten privacy laws, a Beijing lawsuit has focused the question of whether China's freewheeling online culture has gone too far.
The suit was prompted by the suicide in December of a woman who had been blogging about her husband's alleged affair. Her death prompted an outpouring of vitriol against the husband, Wang Fei, who has sued two Chinese online companies and an individual for defamation and privacy violations.
The allegations, which the defendants deny, have been studied by a group of more than 50 senior judges as a test case for resolving issues of privacy rights, the liability of Internet companies and public morality. The case, now under consideration by a panel of three Beijing judges, comes as national lawmakers look to tighten privacy laws.
The case is among a number of recent incidents that highlight the contradictions in the online culture in China, where there are more than 250 million Internet users, according to government statistics. The government restricts foreign news sources and suppresses discussion of politics and other subjects. But outside those limits, China's legal system has few checks and few privacy protections. That leaves room for a variety of abuses, such as groups of online sleuths known here as "human flesh search engines" who seek out and expose the personal details of private citizens who they see as violating public morals.
"The use of the Internet to achieve social shaming, monitoring and ostracism, or for private revenge by private citizens, has become prevalent in Chinese society," says Anne Cheung, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong.
The push to curb abuses worries those who see China's activist Internet users as a strong force for change. Internet public pressure was a factor in Beijing's relative openness during events such as the Sichuan earthquake and June riots in a southern province over the death of a high-school student.
"The law has to be very precise and clear to offset any possible 'chilling effect,' " Ms. Cheung says.
In the U.S. this year, a Chinese student at Duke University and a Tibetan man in Utah became targets of angry online comments about Tibet and the Olympic torch relay. The responses, originating in China, spilled over into nasty phone calls, emails and death threats. And in separate cases, two young women who showed insensitivity in Web postings to victims of the Sichuan earthquake were taken into police custody after their identities were revealed online, though it is unclear whether the police intended to punish or protect them.
Countries with more mature legal systems have some experience with new technologies. In the U.K., victims of online defamation can request that Internet service providers take down offending posts or risk being held liable as publishers. In the U.S., subpoenas can force the disclosure of online identities.
In China, the practice of obtaining court subpoenas to force disclosure of identities in civil cases is unknown, and the concept of privacy is still relatively new. In Mr. Wang's case, the defendants argued that there were no privacy violations since his personal information was already available elsewhere.
Mr. Wang's attorney says the online uproar led to death threats, and graffiti on Mr. Wang's front door, and forced him to resign from his job after "netizens" harassed his employer, ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi. Saatchi's office in Beijing didn't respond to a request for comment.
Through his lawyer, Zhang Yanfeng of the Beijing firm King & Capital, Mr. Wang declined to be interviewed, citing a desire to avoid further media attention. "What he really wants is an apology and for the unlawful materials to be removed from the Web sites," says Mr. Zhang.
A spokesman for Daqi.com, one of the defendants in Mr. Wang's lawsuit, said the company, which posted excerpts from the diary of Mr. Wang's wife, was blameless because it had posted information from both sides of the debate. The other two defendants, Tianya.com and Zhang Leyi, a friend of the deceased woman who set up a Web site about her called "The Migratory Bird Flies North," didn't reply to questions.
According to a November survey conducted by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on attitudes toward the Internet in China, almost 84% of respondents said the Internet should be managed or controlled; of those, 85% said they think the government should be responsible for doing it.
A move is under way to ensure greater protection of individual privacy. In late August, a draft amendment of the Criminal Law was released that would require companies, organizations and individuals to safeguard whatever personal information they have access to -- with the threat of three years' imprisonment for violators.
The draft's author, Zhu Zhigang, a member of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, has been critical of human flesh search engines.
Meanwhile, major Chinese Web sites have started preparing for changes. Tencent Inc., which runs the popular online network QQ.com, recently hired 3,000 workers to run its search software -- and part of their jobs involves watching for online conduct that goes too far.
Related YouTube link: 为姜岩自杀事件积极寻找线索
Related link: Senior judges discuss “human search engine” Fool's Mountain