The term sounds creepy — and it is. “Human flesh searches” are all about punishing people whom the cyberspace masses decide are deserving of public attention and scorn. It’s effectively an effort to use crowdsourcing to reveal and broadcast the real-life identities of those who had been essentially anonymous online — call it doxxing with Chinese characteristics.

Such searches can delve into territory like people’s whereabouts, their relationships and even details about their relatives and close friends. People’s lives and careers can be ruined, even their safety jeopardized, once they’ve been targeted by such a hunt…

And so in recent years, more often than not, human flesh searches have been associated with rising ultranationalism in China. Vigilantes today dig through people’s comments online for any sign of unpatriotic sins. Today, in addition to renrou sousuo, we have another creepy term for these activities: “ba pi,” which literally means “to skin,” that is, to expose.