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Vincent Capone

“Poor Mother, Poor Nation!” In Mayhem of Protests, a Child Reported Missing

“Human flesh search” (人肉搜索) is a hot button issue on the Chinese Internet. This powerful tool allows an overwhelming number of Chinese netizens to mobilize quickly in order to find obscure information or identify individuals, often from a single obscure image.

Some images from the siege of "sad mother's" car, when her child allegedly went missing. Via Weibo

In recent years, human flesh search has gained notoriety as both a valuable tool and as a cudgel. On one hand, human flesh search can be useful in times of crisis and bring a community together. Examples include the Sichuan Earthquake of 2008, when netizens helped identify victims and reunite them with their families, or stories of individuals seeking the help of netizens to locate old classmates and lost relatives. On the other hand, it can be used in (sometimes righteous) anger to uncover the identities of corrupt or inept officials and those deemed by netizens to be “traitors” to China.

Now, the double-edged power of human flesh search has shown itself again, as netizens put their wits together to locate a young child who went missing during recent anti-Japanese protests in the western city of Xi’an.

On September 15, protesters marched in Xi’an, denouncing Japanese claims to the Diaoyu Islands, called the Senkaku in Japanese. One woman driving a Japanese car along Chang’an Avenue was caught up in the protests and, she claims, lost track of her child. As a result, she set up a Weibo account with the username @一个伤心妈妈9月15–literally, “a sad mother 9/15.”

Her first tweet recalled how a group of “so-called patriotic anti-Japanese protesters” smashed her car while she “pleaded with them that there is a child inside the car.” Despite her pleading, she wrote, the car was still smashed and the child was lost in the commotion. She posted a photograph, obtained from a “good-hearted person,” of a man in a white shirt whom she alleged took her child. She ended her post pleading for netizens to help her look for the man. {{1}}[[1]] 请大家帮帮帮我!9月15号西安长安路我的车被一群所谓的爱国抗日者砸了,当时我苦苦哀求他们,车里面有小孩子,可是车还是砸了,小孩在混乱中丢失了。。。一位好心人帮我拍到了主谋的照片,大家帮我找找他,帮帮我。。。[[1]]

The original post was shared by user @记者刘向南, who urged netizens to forward the message in hopes of reuniting the woman with her child. His post was retweeted over 50,000 times and has received over 13,000 comments, thousands of which are positive sentiments aimed towards the mother in hopes that the lost child is soon found and that all is well. Netizens are urging one another to quickly spread the message and utilize the power of social networking and microblogging to find the missing child. @-水冰- urged everyone to “unleash the power of your weibo, turn it up, there’s no way we cannot find him!” {{2}}[[2]]发挥你微博功能,转起来,不信找不到他![[2]] User @圆通自在住 expressed her sympathy and placed herself in the mother’s shoes: “I know if that were my child lost, I would be worried to death.”{{3}}[[3]]我想我自己的孩子如果丢了,我会急死的[[3]]

Netizens also demonstrated anger toward the man responsible that was vivid even by the relatively low standards of anonymous Internet commentary. @鱼蛋蛋之老爸 tweeted: “Shameless hooligan, I wish for his whole family to be dead.”{{4}}[[4]]无耻流氓全家死光光 [[4]] User @JOYCE20080217 wrote, “People like these are the worst, rampaging and robbing people under the banner of patriotism. It’s unforgivable and he deserves to be sliced up.” {{5}}[[5]]必须得严惩,打着爱国的旗号在哪里干打砸抢的无耻行径,实在太过分了,真是一刀一刀割他的肉都不为过[[5]] Given the man’s still-uncertain guilt based on very thin evidence, these angry tweets may have been tapping into something larger.

Indeed, while finding a missing child is a highly worthwhile pursuit on its own, the “sad mother” tweet also invoked broader anxieties about the recent anti-Japanese protests that engendered it. Many netizens used commentary on the post as a place to reflect upon the protests. Some denounced the violent strand of patriotism that was fueling the anti-Japanese protests and taking over many parts of the Internet in China. @XX向洪艳 commented that “fake patriotism really hurts people, specifically the Chinese people.”{{6}}[[6]]伪爱国很伤害人、伤害中国人[[6]] Similarly, @不输的阳光人生 remarks on the event in light of the protests gripping China, tweeting “Poor child, poor mother, poor nation!”{{7}}[[7]]可怜的孩子,可怜的妈妈,可怜的民族![[7]]

The good news: Based on comments on the “sad mother’s” original tweet, the child seems to have been found, although “sad mother” has not yet written in confirmation or thanks. While it is not clear how much credit can be attributed to online human flesh search, its crosshairs have already turned to the man in the white shirt. Will it be long before he is found? As user @池万龙 warned: “This thug will not escape.” {{8}}[[8]]这个暴徒你跑不了[[8]] It seems the mutual recriminations surrounding recent protests in China—those that pit “thugs” and “patriots” against “traitors” and “Japanese devils”—will continue. 

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Vincent Capone