"Human flesh search" film renews discussion of Internet vigilantism

Source:Xinhua Published: 2012-7-27 16:57:23

Award-winning director Chen Kaige's latest film "Caught in the Web" has drawn fresh attention to issues regarding privacy infringement and Internet-based vigilantism.

The film took in 147 million yuan (23 million US dollars) in the three weeks following its July 6 debut, a handsome performance for a domestic film.

Its popularity has spawned renewed debate regarding what the Chinese refer to as "human flesh searches," or the practice of dredging up and publicizing the personal information of a person who is perceived by the public to have committed a grave wrongdoing.

Ye Lanqiu, the film's protagonist, finds herself being targeted by a "human flesh search" after refusing to relinquish her bus seat to a senior citizen. When a reporter films the incident and broadcasts it on local television, Ye is targeted by netizens who expose the private details of her life online.

The film questions the role of mass media in society and taps into the controversial issue of Internet vigilantism, a phenomenon that has become more prevalent in tandem with the increasing popularity of the Internet in China.

"The film really struck me, as it was very close to our daily life," said Beijing resident Li Wenhui.

Li, a young man in his early twenties, said he is engrossed in Internet culture, such as social networking and message boards, as are many of his peers.

"It is easy and convenient to post your opinion online and sometimes you don't know where it will lead. The film reminds me that we should think more about the consequences of our acts," he said.

Sun Junqian, a student at a university in Shanghai, shared Li's opinion.

"With social networks, the influence of Internet has become even more powerful. Small acts can lead to devastating results," she said.

A score of "human flesh searches" have occurred in recent years, targeting government officials and private citizens alike.

In 2008, a Beijing court ordered two websites and an Internet user to compensate a man named Wang Fei for reposting blog entries written by his deceased wife, who had killed herself after discovering that Wang had an affair.

The blog contained some of Wang's private information, leading netizens to publicly harass him and his family.

The film also touches on other hot-button issues in contemporary China, including adultery and domestic violence.

Chen is primarily known for making period films. He won the Golden Palm award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993 with the film "Farewell, My Concubine," which was set in the early 20th century.

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