China Beat Archive



Date of this Version


Document Type



September 28, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright September 28, 2008. Used by permission.


One of the most recent targets of China’s self-appointed net detectives—practitioners of the pernicious phenomenon known as the “human flesh search” (ren rou sou sou)—is not an unfaithful husband, a kitten killer, or a Tibet-friendly Chinese student. Instead she is someone who is, supposedly, a comely young woman whose father owns a coal mine and who recently immigrated to Seattle, cash, flashy cars, and Louis Vuitton luggage in hand. Definitely not from Butcher Holler. And, as it turns out, a fake.

The human flesh searchers, who mete out internet justice and facilitate the harassment of those who fail their moral and political tests, have been active this year. Though some bloggers have traced the practice as far back as 2001, it has come under greater scrutiny this year as the first human flesh search case winds its way through the courts. The case has been brought by that unfaithful husband, Wang Fei, whose wife threw herself off their 24th floor Beijing balcony after posting to her blog about her husband’s cheating ways. In search of vengeance, netizens tracked down Wang’s information, harrying him with threatening emails, phone calls, and even a net-organized posse who showed up on his doorstep. In the Western media, human flesh searching gained increased attention after Grace Wang, a Chinese student at Duke University, received death threats (and her family in China was forced into hiding) after she was captured on film attempting to mediate between pro-Tibet and pro-China protestors on campus. In both cases, searchers first discovered their target’s identity and then published their personal information on the web. Virtual and physical harassment followed.