I met with 15 students for a two-hour recorded session about Internet culture, social networks, pornography & censorship politics. We were probing and discussing ideas about the power of netizens and the government war on pornography. Many views and anecdotes were exchanged. As much as Chinese people know how to cope wity with government surveillance, they also use the web to spy meticulously on each other’s sex lives or sexual mishaps. The urge to snoop around and publicize this kind of “dirt” is perhaps as deep as the desire for porn or romance. There is the recent case of tabacco chief Han Feng, whose sex diary was uploaded by the angry husband of one Han’s lovers. Later his diary was forwarded online and his political life and corruptions were scrutinized by a squad of online vigilantes, whose actions led his dismissal a party official. This chinese “human flesh search engine” is like a netizens’ mob who collaborate online to illegally investigate and stalk a person. They then take action against and harass this person in real life. which can have far-reaching consequences. Han has meanwhile sued the uploader of his diary and rumors now abound that it was one of his political rivals who hired a hacker to steak Han’s diary. This is an instance of netizens power and cyber bullying, but in many cases the steamy mob gropes for petty details about people’s sexuality–as if they area signs of larger problems. But maybe they are just what they are, and the mob might as well leave these details alone & and yes–get a sex life of their own!
I had lunch with my high spirited translators Mu and Carol. I moved on from fried duck and crispy duck skin to duck tongue preserved in egg-shaped jello. The jello-eggs looked very beautiful but the tongue inside tasted a bit bony, even though my friends called it very “smooth.” I started my interviews and noticed that people are very cautious about my topics. Dr. Li Yinhe answered my questions with short answers and reassured me that “there is no actual danger involved” in talking about sex and pornography in China. But still I feel shadowed by a darker spirit–severity, seriousness and disconnect–when walking and talking about such topics. I have the feeling that 99% of what I care about is located elsewhere and “underground.” In the evening I talked to three cosplayers about their adoption of Japanese animation characters and gneder roles. They babbled and giggled a lot but also demanded money and brought along their own contracts. This had never happened to me in my long history of interviewing people. It made me sad to meet this level of suspicion or absurd self-imposed bureaucracy. Tomorrow I will be interviewing about 15 university students and wonder how we will relate.