China wary of Internet-led wars

Published: Friday 30 June 2006

Morality China

An impassioned, 5,000-word letter on one of China's most popular Internet bulletin boards, from a husband denouncing a student he suspected of carrying on an affair with his wife, has set off war -- virtually. "Let's use our keyboard and mouse," one person wrote, "to chop out the heads of these adulterers, to pay for the sacrifice of the husband." It was the latest example of a growing phenomenon the Chinese call Internet hunting, in which online throngs administer morality lessons. In recent cases, people have scrutinised husbands suspected of cheating on their wives, fraud on auction sites, the secret lives of celebrities and unsolved crimes.

While Internet wars can crop up anywhere, these cases have set off alarms in China, where this sort of crowd behaviour has led to violence in the past. Many here draw disturbing parallels to the Cultural Revolution, whose 40th anniversary was in May.

In recent years, the Chinese government has gradually tightened controls, requiring, for example, that customers at Internet cafs provide identification.

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