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‘Human Flesh Search Engine’ over Swimming Pool Conflict Turns Fatal: Female Doctor Commits Suicide after Becoming Target of Online Witch Hunt

When social media is used as a weapon in a private conflict, it can actually kill people.

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What started with an argument in a swimming pool on Monday, resulted in a suicide on Saturday. The trending story of a young female doctor from Deyang shows just how devastating it can be to suddenly be in the eye of a social media storm.

 
Miranda Barnes contributed to this report.
 

A 35-year-old female pediatrician from Deyang city, Sichuan, has committed suicide by taking 500 sleeping pills when the stress she faced, after getting caught up in an internet witch hunt, became too much for her.

The story, that has gone viral on Chinese social media, starts on August 20. The woman, named An Yingyan (安颖彦), was swimming at a local swimming pool with her husband that evening when she collided with a boy, as the pool’s surveillance cameras also show.

What happened next is unclear – and also varies depending on different social media accounts and news reports. According to those on An Yingyan’s side, the boy, a 13-year-old who was there with his friend, actually harassed the woman and touched her bathing suit. When An demanded an apology from the boy, he refused, spitting her in the face and further insulting her instead.

According to those on the side of the boy, however, An and the 13-year-old only briefly touched when colliding, causing An to become angry with the boy. He responded to her by pulling a face.

Surveillance cameras do show what happened next, namely that the woman’s husband intervened by jumping over, pushing the head of the boy underwater and smacking him.

Lifeguards at the swimming pool told Sina News that they soon spotted the altercation and intervened. Both the boys and the couple left the pool and went into the dressing rooms to change.

An Yingyan’s husband and friends, speaking to Chinese reporters, later claim that An was beaten by the 13-year-old’s mother and two other females inside the female dressing room that evening.

An’s husband shows a photo of the bruises his wife suffered from the alleged attack in the dressing room (via Netease report).

Both parties reported the incident to local police, who tried to settle the conflict between the two families. As a result, the husband apologized to the 13-year-old for his agressive behavior.

 
Getting Social Media Involved: The Online Witch Hunt
 

But the incident was far from over.

The following day, on August 21, the boy’s family -who apparently found out where the doctor worked – came over to Dr. An’s hospital, demanding her to be discharged and telling about her alleged misdemeanor.

The story, including surveillance footage from the pool, was also posted on social media by a social media user (@鸣Mmmm) – suspected to be the boy’s mother, Mrs. Chang – writing: “Quickly come and look, a minor was publicly beaten by an employee of the Water Resources Bureau*, pushing the baby child down, wanting to kill him. Just because the child was not careful while swimming and bumped into his wife. He even immediately apologized!” [*An’s husband].

An Yingyan requested an absence from work on Tuesday (21st), and stayed home the rest of the week. The incident had made her nervous, her husband told reporters, and at home she could also accompany her little daughter, who was just about to attend school for the first time.

But the social media storm got worse. Within three days after the incident occurred, the name, telephone number, work address, function, photos, and all other private information of An Yingyan and her husband had leaked online via WeChat and Weibo, going viral across their town and local chat groups: they had become the target of an online witch hunt, or a so-called ‘human flesh search engine.’

“Human Flesh Search Engine” (Rénròu sōusuǒ yǐnqíng 人肉搜索引擎) is the Chinese term for the phenomenon of netizens distributing the personal information of individuals they feel ‘deserve’ public interest or scorn. Targets are often individuals who have disrupted public order in some way and have angered netizens for their behavior and actions. (Read more here).

 
The Tables are Turning
 

On Saturday, August 25, only five days after the swimming pool conflict took place, An Yingyan sat in her car and took 500 sleeping pills. When she was found, she was immediately rushed to the hospital, where she passed away.

Her husband told reporters this week that his wife had become overwhelmed by the online manhunt and media attention, and the impact it made on her life and family. She would sit in her car and cry for hours.

A trending online video of KNEWS (blurred) shows how doctors are trying to resuscitate the woman, her husband crying by her side.

The story of An Yingyan has now received overwhelming attention on Chinese social media. The hashtag “Dr. An from Deyang” (#德阳安医生#) received 31 million views on Wednesday, the hashtag on her suicide (#德阳女医生自杀#) getting over 3 million views, a news report by Netease was read nearly 160,000 times within hours after posting.

Some well-known social media accounts have now apologized for forwarding the story, expressing their sympathies towards Dr. An and her family. Many posts about the incident have since been deleted. One prominent account forwarding the story is titled ‘Deyang Expose King’ (@德阳爆料王), and many commenters especially blame this account for forwarding “false information.”

“The internet has made this excellent pediatrician kill herself,” some say. “You all have blood on your hands,” a popular Weibo post said (@夏天的风Tl): “You can delete your posts all you want, but you know your crime.”

Public sentiment has seemingly drastically turned around. Although many people criticized the doctor and her husband after the video and story were first posted online, they are now turning against the Chang mother and her family, blaming Mrs. Chang for misguiding public opinion to use it as a weapon against Dr. An.

“She’s a beast!”, some say: “No wonder the 13-year-old behaves like an animal, having been raised by one.”

Some netizens even call for another ‘human flesh search,’ this time targeting the Chang family.

Although a suicide triggered by an online witch hunt is at the center of this story, most netizens seemingly do not care about starting another one.

By Manya Koetse, contributions from Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ld Elon

    August 29, 2018 at 10:02 pm

    I love Chinese their so awesome.
    😀

  2. Avatar

    Julia

    August 31, 2018 at 5:16 am

    Sad. I despise social media for this reason and also when others get involved in something they don’t know a lick about. I feel sorry especially for An’s daughter and the children she could have helped.

  3. Avatar

    nathan chang

    September 2, 2018 at 11:27 pm

    The kind of behavior exhibited by ALL parties in this situation is typical of Chinese people in general. No one is innocent: not the doctor, not the kid, not the kid’s family, not the doctor’s husband, and most definitely not netizens. As is so frequent and typical in China, each aforementioned party behaved in ways that deliberately and pointlessly escalated the situation.

    The simple and sad reality is that the vast majority of the general population in China are driven by wanton pettiness, emotional decision making, vindictive attitudes, total lack of respect for human life, and greed. It will take many many more generations for the overall quality of the average Chinese person to reach a level commensurate with that of a truly civilized and developed nation. Until then, Chinese people must be ruled with an iron fist as they only understand and respond to force and coercion. I applaud the Chinese government’s methods as they truly understand Chinese people’s nature … best.

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China Digital

In China’s “Kua Kua” Chat Groups, People Pay to Be Praised [Updated]

Money can’t buy you love, but in these ‘kua kua’ groups, they can buy you praise.

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Image via hexun.com.

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Social media is often called a battlefield, but in these Chinese WeChat ‘Kua kua’ groups (夸夸群), people will praise you no matter what you do or say.

A new phenomenon has become a hot topic on Chinese social media these days. ‘Kua kua’ groups (夸夸群) are chat groups where people share some things about themselves – even if they are negative things – and where other people will always tell them how great they are, no matter what.

Kua kua groups (夸 ‘kuā‘ literally means ‘praise’) have become all the rage in China. People seem to love them for the mere fact that it makes them feel good about themselves.

The format is clear. Person A tells about something that is on their minds, and asks people for positive feedback. Person B, C, and D will then come forward and tell them how good or pretty they are, sometimes based on their profile photo.

One could say: “Hi everyone, I’ve just turned down a job offer, but now my future is full of uncertainty, please compliment me.” Then people in the chat group will respond and say things such as: “You look like the type of person who knows exactly what they want.”

The Kua kua praise group phenomenon allegedly began within the online community of Xi’an Jiaotong University – although some claim it was Shanghai’s Fudan University – when one person asked others in a chat group to compliment them. The idea started to compliment and praise others, and so a trend was born; first, in university (BBS) chat groups, and now on WeChat and beyond the realm of universities.

The phenomenon has been around for at least six years, but only recently started gaining widespread attention on Chinese social media. According to China’s Toutiao News, virtually every college now has its own ‘praise group.’

But the praise does not always come for free. Although many (college-based) chat groups are free to join, people who want to be complimented and are not yet a member of an existing group can join Kua kua groups when they pay for it. On Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao, there are various online shops that sell a ‘Praise group’ membership starting from 50 yuan ($7,5) per person, going up to 188 yuan ($28).

The time of praise is limited to five minutes unless you pay more. The quality of the compliments you’ll be getting also depends on how much you pay. Some groups allegedly consist of “students of great talent,” and the number of people complimenting one person could reach up to 500 people.

The contents of the praise could literally be anything. A simple “I want to be praised” comment could get a variety of reactions from “your hat looks nice” to “the fact that you’re so honest and straightforward about what you want is something that is hard to come across in this day and age,” to “you used a period mark [at the end of your sentence], you must be someone who is very persistent in reaching your goals.”

The fact that the “Kua kua” phenomenon is such a success in China might relate to its culture, where humility and modesty are considered ideal in day-to-day communications. When given a compliment, it is common in China to deny it or to suggest that the person giving the compliment is much better than they are (also see Cheng 2003, 30).

These chat groups, however, break away from the dominant cultural interactions: people don’t have to be polite in responding to the compliments and can wallow in the praise they paid for.

Although not as big as the “Kua Kua” group phenomenon, these kinds of groups also exist in the English-language social media sphere. On Reddit’s “Toast Me” page, for example, there are some 92,000 subscribers participating in asking and giving positive feedback to others, albeit unpaid.

The people giving compliments in the Chinese Kua kua groups are random people, some students, some staff of Taobao stores, who get hongbao, red envelopes with digital money gifts, for contributing to the group. According to some reports, some ‘customers’ end up staying the group and become a part of the team themselves.

We will follow up on this later: we booked a ‘five-minute praise session’ ourselves, but are still awaiting admission to the group…

 

Update: Our Kua Kua Experience

 

So what is the Kua kua experience like? We decided to try out for ourselves and purchased a 5-minute praise session through Taobao for 50 yuan ($7,5) from a seller that had a good rating.

After the purchase is completed, the seller will contact you with details asking for your WeChat ID. After adding, they will ask you what your ‘problem’ or issue is, and you will be put in a virtual queue until your turn comes up to be praised.

You’ll then be added to a WeChat group that has your name in the headline (ours was something like “Manya you can do it”) and that has around 200 participants.

The message posted by us was:

Hello, I’m Manya (Dutch). I’ve been studying Chinese for more than ten years. In fact, I’m afraid to say it may even be more than 13 years, but I still often don’t understand what Beijing taxi drivers are saying. Even studying every day won’t help. I’ve been learning for so many years, yet I often still don’t understand what the old people in Beijing are saying. It’s a bit embarrassing. I think my Chinese is still not good enough. I can’t understand the ‘crosstalk’ [comedy sketches] during the Spring Festival Gala at all. It makes me feel a little dispirited.

Within a matter of seconds, the screen then just fills up with positive feedback and emoji. There are dozens of comments, and they almost go too fast to read them all.

Some of the responses:

You’re great, and even I don’t understand Beijing taxi drivers.

Stay confident in yourself!

You’re so cool.”

You can type so many Chinese characters, who’d say your Chinese is not good enough?!

Manya, you’re so fantastic.”

None of us understand what old people in Beijing are saying.

Chinese is just not easy to study, the fact that you’ve been doing it for so long already shows how great you are.”

It’s incredible that you’ve already come this far.”

A woman who is so motivated about studying really moves me, you’re my role model, you make me want to study more English.”

During the praise session, the group leader will occasionally post a hongbao [envelope with money] for the participants to receive in return for their compliments.

After five minutes, the session ends, and the people will send out some last words of encouragement. The group leader will personally thank you for being part of the group, and later, you’ll be removed from the group as the people will move on to the next person who is waiting in line to be praised.

How does it feel to be praised by some 200 people, receiving hundreds of compliments? It’s overwhelming, and even though you know it’s all just an online mechanism, and that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you say, it still makes you glow a little bit inside.

Although some experts quoted by Chinese state media warn people not to rely on these praise groups too much, there does not seem to be much harm in allowing yourself to be complimented for some minutes from time to time.

Other people reviewing the same Kua kua group apparently feel the same: “I’m super satisfied, the result is amazing.”

By Manya Koetse  and Miranda Barnes

Featured image via hexun.com.

References

Cheng, Winnie. 2003. Intercultural Communication. Amsterdam, John Benjamins Publishing.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

China Youth Federation: Ban Minors from Live Streaming Platforms

If implemented, this would mean a big blow to China’s live streaming market.

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More than 45% of Chinese live stream users are minors. A new proposal by the China Youth Federation wants to ban those under the age of 18 from broadcasting in China’s booming live streaming environment.

Chinese minors will no longer be able to do live streaming if it is up to the All-China Youth Federation (ACYF, 中国青联). The China Youth Federation submitted the proposal during the Two Sessions (Lianghui), China’s largest annual legislative meetings.

The China Youth Federation is an organization to represent China’s youth groups founded in 1949, that has the Communist Youth League of China as its core.

China’s live streaming market is booming. Sina News reports that some 425 million netizens used live streaming platforms in 2018. According to the Online Information Center of the Communist Youth League, Chinese minors are particularly active live streamers: 6.4% of live stream users are primary school students, 18.3% of them are junior high school students and 20.3% are senior high schoolers.

There are dozens of live streaming platforms in China, with this list of apps, including the short video & live stream platforms Douyin and Kuaishou, being among the most popular ones. If the law would be implemented, China’s thriving live streaming market would certainly suffer a big blow.

Earlier this week, Sixth Tone already reported that “protecting minors online” would be among one of the important themes discussed by tech leaders at the Two Sessions.

On Saturday, March 9, the hashtag “Proposal to Ban Minors from Engaging in Livestreaming” (#建议禁止未成年人担任网络主播#) [basically meaning “prohibiting minors from being online hosts”] became top trending on Weibo, attracting more than 180 million views. Various Chinese state media sources state that the live streaming industry is in “a state of chaos” and needs stricter control to protect minors, who could easily come into contact with “vulgar” and “inappropriate” content through live streaming platforms.

The ban could be realized by implementing stricter controls on the registration process of China’s various live-streaming networks. This could suggest that the measures would go beyond minors just being banned from live streaming themselves.

“I support this proposal, live streaming platforms are not appropriate for minors,” a popular comment said, with many Weibo users agreeing: “Young people should focus on their schoolwork instead.”

But not everyone agrees with stricter controls on China’s online platforms. One commenter wrote: “Officials can have multiple wives, rich people have multiple women, yet if common people watch live streams where some vulgar language or sensitive content occasionally pops up, then it’s not allowed.”

“What should be banned is vulgar content, not minor users,” others write.

Earlier this week, Beijing News reported that Yan Xiaohong (阎晓宏), director of the Chinese Copyright Association, also submitted a proposal relating to minors using the internet. Yan’s proposal goes much further than that of the ACYF: he suggests that special online platforms should be developed for minors, and argues that it is not good for China’s youth to be able to access the same online content as adults.

By Manya Koetse 

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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