Human Flesh Search Engines is a Chinese network based search facility which combines human and computer resources to accomplish a search task. It is human powered rather than computer driven. Human Flesh searches highlight what people are willing to fight for: the polarizing events and contested moral standards that are the fault lines of contemporary China. They have become a phenomenon in China: 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, or run out of town. It’s crowd-sourced detective work, pursued online — with offline results. “In the United States, traditional media are still playing the key role in setting the agenda for the public,” says Jin Liwen. “But in China, you will see that a lot of hot topics, hot news or events actually originate from online discussions.” In one well known case, when a video appeared in China of a woman stomping a cat to death with the sharp point of her high heel, the human flesh search engine tracked the kitten killer’s home to 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 was affected a lot,” says one Luobei resident. “She left town and went somewhere else”. The kitten-killer case didn’t just provide revenge; it helped turn the human-flesh search engine into a national phenomenon. Searches have also been directed against cheating spouses, corrupt government officials, amateur pornography makers, Chinese citizens who are perceived as unpatriotic, journalists who urge a moderate stance on Tibet and rich people who try to game the Chinese system.