Tianya.cn is a popular internet forum in the People's Republic of China run by Hainan Tianya Online Network Technology Co. and partially owned by Google. It is the twelfth most visited site in the People's Republic of China with 30 million page visits daily. The website includes a bulletin board system (BBS), blog, photo album, news and classifieds, and virtual street shopping online features. It is known mostly for the use of its forum's feature and is often used by netizens to start or contribute to Human Flesh Searches. Because of various legal and ethical implicates associated with human flesh searches, Tianya has ethical implications associated with it.
The Tianya.cn internet forum was founded on February 14th, 1999 by Xing Ming in Hainan Province.
Types of Forums
In 2008 Tianya has 30-40 different forums; some are miscellaneous chat, entertainment, or special forums.
The Miscellaneous Chat forum typically includes critical posts about society and the Chinese government, but discussions about corruption, murders, and prostitution are also popular. According to information from 2008, this forum is more often frequented by 21-30 year-old males with white collar jobs or university students. Since the founding of Tianya this forum has had 33 million posts.
The Entertainment forum is visited by a larger variety of college students, including more women, and is more popular than the miscellaneous chat forum. Posts in this forum are mostly about entertainment news, but politics are still discussed. Entertainment forum political discussions are less critical of the Chinese government than the ones in the miscellaneous chat forum.
Special Forums focus on any popular topic in the People's Republic of China at a certain period of time. For example an Olympics special forum was popular when the Olympics were in Beijing in 2008.
Notable Forum Posts
Thallium Poisoning of Zhu Ling
In 1995, Zhu Ling, a student at Tsinghua University in Beijing was unknowingly poisoned with thallium. Thallium is a tasteless and and odorless toxic metal that damages the central nervous system causing pain, loss of reflexes, muscle wasting, hair loss, dementia, psychosis, and death. As a result of the poisoning Zhu began to lose her hair, her eyesight started to degrade, her face became paralyzed causing her to lose the ability to speak, and she suffered from muscle wasting and loss of reflexes leading her to lose the function of her arms and legs. Doctors were unable to figure out what had caused the rapid decline in Zhu's health so her friend Bei Zhicheng posted her symptoms on online medical forums. Within a few days they received many replies suggesting Zhu was suffering from thallium heavy metal poisoning. This diagnosis was confirmed by the hospital where Zhu was being treated and they treated her for thallotoxicosis (thallium poisoning). Doctors saved Zhu, but they were not able to remove all of the thallium from her system and she had already lost her vision completely along with suffering permanent paralysis and severe neurological damage. The police never found out who poisoned Zhu Ling, but her friends suspected it was her roommate, Sun Wei. In 2006 Zhu's friends posted on Tianya accusing Sun Wei of the poisoning and explaining why she was guilty. The post stated that Sun not only lived with Zhu, but they were also involved campus groups together and she was doing research at the University that gave her access to liquid thallium during the time Zhu was poisoned. This sparked an intense discussion about Zhu's poisoning and Sun's guilt, which includes posts from Zhu's immediate family and, awhile after, a post from Sun stating her innocence. This forum is one of the most popular on Tianya.cn.
Jiang Yan's Suicide
In 2007, Wang Fei and his mistress Dong Fang were the subjects of a forum post on Tianya.cn that lead to a Human Flesh Search. Wang's wife, Jiang Yan, committed suicide when she found out about Dong Fang. Jiang Yan kept a private blog diary, which depicted the depression she felt as a result of her failed marriage. Jiang's friend, Zhang Leyi, started the search when she posted the blog diary entries on the Tianya forum. Wang Fei and Dong Fang's personal information was posted on the forum and their homes were vandalized. Wang Fei was also fired from his job at Saatchi & Saatch. In 2008 Wang Fei sued Tianya and Zhang Leyi for violating his privacy and provoking the defamation of his character.
Tianya.cn is one of the few ways citizens of the People's Republic of China can share and discuss politics, information, and current news. However, it is censored by the government along with Yahoo, Google, Skype, and MSN search engines and blog features. For example when a user attempts to make a post, Tianya sometimes won't publish it or they will send the post to be approved before they publish it. Tianya.cn is just one example of government censorship in the ethical debate of censorship.
In addition to censorship, trolling is a concern as well because increased anonymity online gives users confidence to act unethically and engage in activities they would not normally. The sense of security and anonomity online, bullying is also a main concern. Human Flesh Searches are a form of extreme online bullying and spark many ethical debates. These searches result in users' personal information being posted in online forums, which is an extreme violation of privacy. Tianya has been held accountable for not promptly removing posts that contained a user's personal information, which raises the question if its unethical when they don't swiftly remove an inappropriate post. However, the site is one way for citizens of the People's Republic of China to overcome national censorship and expose corrupt government officials. It appears that Chinese netizens must risk being the subject of a human flesh search in order to keep a platform where they can exercise their freedom of speech and expose government corruption and discuss politics.
- The Internet in China
- Tianya and Chinese online: A brief introduction - Hidden Harmonies China Blog
- Facts About Thallum Poisoning - MedicineNet.com
- PKU Today in History - Apr. 10: PKU student initiated China’s first online rescue - Peking University
- Lab poisoning mystery triggers debate - China Daily
- Suicide MM's Blog - EastSouthWestNorth
- Human flesh search engines–crowd-sourcing "justice" - Ryan McLaughlin