Mainstream Media Hunt Pornographers
The pornographers are the people behind the now deactivated www.bikinikungfu.com, which sold photographs of Chinese girls aged 8 to 15 practicing martial arts while clad in bikinis. Previously, the subject was how the Chinese netizens came together spontaneously to form a 'human search engine' to hunt down those responsible (see MOP Hunts Pornographers). It was also apparent that there is a limit as to how far the netizens can go on their own.
But once this story became big enough, the mainstream media stepped in. For one thing, the mainstream media have better resources -- for example, they can afford to send an investigative reporter to track down the leads. More importantly, the principals will be more amenable to answering question from a reporter than a blogger.
In the following, there are a couple of newspaper stories about the investigation. These individual reporters pursued different angles and their combined efforts provide a much more complete picture than the netizens were able to accomplish.
(Morning News via Wenxue City) By 郭翔鹤. August 17, 2006.
[in partial translation]
From the downloaded pictures, one kungfu girl wore sports uniform with the words "Bo博" and "martial arts school武校." From this clue, the MOP forum netizens such as Mr. Zhao of Beijing believed that a certain martial arts school in Bo'ai county, Henan province was the likely suspect. The school uniform was identical to that of the girl in the picture. Furthermore, the owner of bikinikungfu.com is Yan Gaofei, a martial arts instructor in the United States. Previously, Yan had visited the Henan martial arts school known as the "Bo'ai County Shaolin Children Martial Arts School." ... According to information, this school was closed down by the authorities two years ago.
Through further inquiries, the Morning News reporter was able to locate the former address of the Bo'ai Shaolin Martial Schools. According to the family of the former principal Mr. Yang, "the school once had more than 300 students. The school was closed down because of a fight among the students. Mr. Yang is presently with a martial arts school in Baoding city, Hebei province."
The reporter contacted Mr. Yang to ask about Yan Gaofei. Mr. Yang was surprised: "Does Yan Gaofei know that I am in Baoding? He just called me a couple of days ago to say that there has been some trouble. But I did not realize that it was so serious."
Mr. Yang said that more than two years ago, an acquaintance at a travel agency in Zhengzhou brought Yan Gaofei to Bo'ai and that was how they got to know each other. "At the time, he brought along an American group of Taichi practitioners. He said that he wanted to take some photographs of female students in order to promote his Taichi club. I thought that this was just martial arts photos and so I agreed. He took females students between 12 to 16 ages old to Zhengzhou for the photographs. When the girls got back, they said that they posed in bikinis. The parents were very upset and came to see me. I said that just a few photographs were taken and it is no big deal. It took some effort to calm things down. The students were recruited locally, and this sort of thing is inglorious in the countryside. So the parents did not make a further issue. I never not realize that these photographs would be distributed over the Internet. I know nothing ... he called a couple of days ago, and that was when I realized that things have gone awry."
Yan Gaofei 燕高飞
As for what Yan Gaofei did, Mr. Yang said: "I ought to be angry. You were able to find me so easily, so others will be able to find my family, which I worry about. I will have to watch how things develop. Some of the students have gone out to work, but others are still in the county. It will be big trouble if they are located ..." Mr. Yang did not talk about whether he had financial transactions with Yan Gaofei. "I only asked him not to distribute the photographs."
On the home page of bikinikungfu.com, there is a girl named "Wang Rae" who is promoted as "Girl Number 1." The website claimed: "She has learned kungfu at various places and won championships at various competitions." Many clear photographs of the girl have been posted, including some showing her in black underwear and another fully nude photo of her holding on to her knees. But the MOP netizens were most interested in an outdoor photo in which they determined that the building in the background was the Henan Provincial Museum.
Yesterday morning, the Morning News reporter went to the Henan Provincial Museum and compared the photographs against the scenery. The reporter was able to find the top of the building, the benches with the yellow back, the white street lamps, the iron balustrades and the red/white electric poles. Even the bricks on the ground were identical.
However, the reporter did not find any site that matched the photograph exactly. A longtime gardener at the museum plaza looked at the photograph very carefully and told the reporter: "The photograph was taken here, but it must be at least two years old. At the time, the tree were still propped up and the trees on the grass field now have been planted only recently. So some things have changed and they are not the same as that shown in the photograph."
When the Morning News reporter began to look for the clues in other areas of Zhengzhou, the concern of MOP netizen "datadigger" was proven -- "Yan Gaofei has connections with other martial arts people in Xian, Henan and Huanan, and so there may be more than one filming location."
At bikinikungfu.com, there is one photo of a girl in red bikini taken indoors. A Henan netizen thought that the location was near the northern ring of Zhengzhou. The reporter checked out the area and found that there were vast differences between the photograph and the actual environment. According to Zhengzhou city environmental engineer Xu Bing, there is no 'green' zone in Zhengzhou with those characteristics. The reporter also checked with more than 10 Zhengzhou taxi drivers and they all said that there is no such facility there.
Also another MOP netizens recently claimed to have "found the girl in pink lifting up her leg next to a lake." She was a worker in the park performance troupe in Kaifeng, Henan. "Those five photographs were taken by two southern Chinese men. She is very angry because she did not think that those two men would be so evil! But that occurred some time ago, and the contact information has been lost."
Based upon these circumstances, some of the girls in the bikinikungfu.com photographs did not come from the Bo'ai Shaolin Martial Arts School. "There are various collaborators with Yan Gaofei all over the country," one netizen analyzed.
The information on bikinikungfu.com showed that these photographs were posted over a period of two years. The top left of the photographs showed the years: 2004, 2005, 2006. The former principal of Bo'ai Shaolin Martial Arts School Mr. Yang confirmed that the several under-aged girls from the school were photographed in 2004. The girls in the 2005 and 2006 have not been located. A MOP netizen pointed out that there were 8 underaged girls in a 2006 photograph with several tropical plants in the background. "This does not seem to be Henan. It is more likely to be a city in the south."
(Youth Weekly via 6Park.com)
"Who organized the filming? How were the photographs turned over to a foreign website? How much money did they make? How to keep the girls' mouths shut?"
Since everybody was so focused on the location of the school, a netizen reminded people: "It seems that people are trying to look for the location of the filming through the photographs but they are ignoring a more importance piece of information -- the bikinikungfu.com website."
On August 12, several overseas students posted: "According to our investigation, bikinikungfu.com is registered in Florida (USA) by Endless Forest Inc. The company's owner is likely to be Mr. Yan, the owner of a certain Taichi Association in Florida. This person has been actively in the Henan martial arts circle for some time. We have reported this website to the US child pornography monitoring organization ASACP. From these photographs, we are worried that the children may have been sexually abused and tortured ..."
Separately, netizen Little Seven confirmed the above: The contact information for bikinikungfu.com is similar to the email for another of Yan's websites. Also, Endless Forest Inc's website points to Yan's website. By searching for the contact email address for bikinikungfu.com, a post on a Macau information website was made in 2004 by Max Yan who was seeking advice on how to establish bikinikungfu.com. In the visitor page of bikinikungfu.com ,the contact email was the same as Endless Forest Inc -- the company owner Yan is the president of a Taichi Association in Florida.
This reporter has sent in an email to the address identified by netizens, but there has been no response as yet.
"Where were those young girls?"
In the bikinikungfu.com photographs, a yellow uniform showed the words "Bo" and "Wu" and possibly also "Xue." So some netizens have pinned it down to Bo'ai county in Henan.
According to the Yan's person website, he visits Jiaozuo city each time that he visits China, so his roots must be there. Jiaozuo is famous for the Chen-style Taichi and Yan also specializes in Taichi. Netizens also discovered from the Internet information that Yan has visited Henan martial arts schools many times, including the "Shaolin Kids School in Bo'ai county, Henan province" in May 2004. Bikinikungfu.com was registered on March 31, 2004.
Netizens also noted that Yan's personal website showed a photograph of him with the students at the school. The student uniforms are very similar to those seen in the bikinikungfu.com photograph: red clothes with white stripes underneath the shoulder and neck. In this photograph, the banner read: "Boai Shaolin Martial Arts .."
Therefore, netizens have identified the suspected martial school to be in Boai county, with the Shaolin school being the prime suspect.
Yet the reporter found from the Boai County Education Party and the Sports Department that no such school is registered. According to Jiaozuo Martial Arts School director Mr. Ren, the most likely suspect does not exist! But the principals of the only two martial arts schools as well as their supervisors confirmed to the reporter that the Shaolin School was shut down in June 2004 due to mismanagement and after the coaches got into a fight with local residents."
... A netizen noted: "If true, then Yan visited the Shaolin School in May 2004, and the school was shut down in June. This is a peculiar affair."
According to Bo'ai Martial Arts Association president and Ba Ji School principal Mr. Ma, the photograph of Yan with the Shaolin school was authentic. "At the time, the government was about to shut them down. A tour group came in and the Shaolin school received them. After the performance, they took the photographs with the foreigners so that they can claim to have foreign visitors. ... Less than one month afterwards, the school was shut down."
"The history of the search"
The current search began with a forum post by our reporter Chen Qimei. On August 10, under the alias of Little Seven, she made a post which was deleted by the administrator after more than 300 replies. She mobilized the netizens to re-post and this time the administrator placed it as a top recommendation.
Little Seven said, "This post appeared more than two months ago but very few people cared. I saw the post and I was very angry. When I saw it again, I thought maybe the netizens can mobilize to investigate this matter, just like the cat killer and adultery cases. I believe that netizens have the power. You find out that everybody is a Sherlock Holmes. From an email address, the sign on a girl's uniform and the scene outside the window of an indoor shot can become clues. The process is very interesting."
Little Seven said that the netizens have enhanced their skills during this process. "For example, the website server is located overseas, so some English-capable netizens have written to the United States. But there has not been any response yet."
Based upon this reporter's research, the netizen 'bbzzzc' was the first one to report on this incident at Tianya Club in a post titled: "A pornographic website user who still has a conscience makes a denunciation and confession":
Sorry, I visit pornographic websites but I still have a conscience. A short while ago, I went on a famous erotic website in China and I saw a filth-laden post with photographs of a group of under-aged Chinese girls practicing martial arts in bikinis or sexy underwear ..
Through the links, I accessed what should be an overseas website ...
This overseas website must have the participation of Chinese people. Let us find the truth and put them away!! Please treat me with contempt too ...
But this post did not gain much attention. The Tianya Club forum master 月明风轻 said to the reporter: "Many netizens have joined the investigation. The power of the Internet is beyond our imagination. Whenever we have some ugly and evil situation like this, the netizens become united with the sense of justice and responsibility. Humans and search engines make for a powerful force. The suspected individual is a person named Yan, but the school is still inconclusive." He said frankly, "The netizens cannot take the place of the public security apparatus."
After the search began, the bikinikungfu.com website was suddenly inaccessible on August 12.
When the reporter attempted to enter again the page saw: "The page that you are looking for may have been deleted or renamed." Even stranger was the back that Yan's personal website and corporate website also became inaccessible.
On August 13, a certain website removed the page from the recommended list. In the afternoon, some of the posts were placed under restricted viewing. On the morning of August 14, the posts related to the Kungfu Girls were banned from viewing. After 4pm on August 14, the posts were available again. A netizen sighed: "From being a top recommendation one day ago, it became a banned a few hours ago and now it is back to form. What a complicated history!"
On August 15, the new posts were not adding more clues but it was still being supported by netizens: "Support it! Do not give up until we reach the end!" That afternoon, the related posts were banned from viewing once more.
Around noon of August 14, our reporter sent an email to the Bo'ai Baji Martial Arts School to verify the matters but the email box had been expropriated by a hacker.
At 13:55, an email from "an angry youth on MOP" arrived at the reporter's email. "I just used technical means to enter the Baji School email inbox and I read your email. So I want to respond to you. As an idealistic youth, I am angry about what is happening at MOP, but the Chinese media have not been paying attention to this matter. MOP seems to want to back off. I hope that you can go through various channel to find and report the truth, so that these rotten social elements can be published and the young girls be spared the nightmare. Everybody wants to have a perfect solution." The letter ended by saying: "Because the media are not paying attention, I thought that nobody cared. So I came here thinking about shutting their website down for a few days. When I saw your email, I'll let them go for now. I hope that you can discover the truth and save those girls."
(Morning News via tom.com) American Company Claims to Have Consent of the Guardian. August 22, 2006.
"Extreme opinions on Chinese websites have been directed at our company and Mr. Yan, and this has motivated us to call you to clarify some matters to the Chinese netizens. Mr. Yan is unable to communicate with you directly for certain reasons, but I am speaking on behalf of the company." At 2am (Beijing Times), Mr. Li of the American company which registered bikinikungfu.com called the mobile telephone of the Morning News reporter.
This was the first time that the principal Mr. Yan and his Endless Forest company have addressed the Chinese media since the large number of under-aged Chinese girls were exhibited at bikinikungfu.com. Why have they been silent? Why did bikinikungfu.com shut down so quickly after the publicity? Is the website still taking photographs of bikini kungfu girls? Mr. Li explained to the dubious Chinese readers.
After getting through on the Morning News reporter's telephone, Endless Forest spokesperson Mr. Li confirmed that he read the website reports citing Morning News: "We read what principal Yang (former principal at the Bo'ai Shaolin Martial Arts School) said."
Mr. Li told the Morning News reporter about what happened: "When we signed the contract with principal Yang, the relevant article stated clearly that 'the dress will be according to the requirements of the American party.' He did not dissent. He was the guardian of these minors. We obtained his consent, and then we took these children out of the school for filming. In the United States, this is permissible with the consent of the guardian. We studied the law carefully before we carried out the mission. Even though he found out about the bikinis afterwards, he did not dissent."
At the same time, Li explained why Yang was not paid: "He was hoping for us to give him publicity in the United States, and therefore he did not ask for a single cent. Afterwards, we fulfilled our promise to give him the maximum exposure in the United States about his school. He wished to be able to come to perform in the United States. Later, his school was shut down and therefore the cooperation ceased. Simply put, the swimming costume performance was just a small part of our agreement." He said that Yan Gaofei and the company did not plan on a pornographic website. "At the time, we were just the middlemen for an investor who wants to form a martial arts performance troupe in the United States. We know that Americans treat martial arts as performance. It is normal for American girls to wear bikinis in sports. The client wanted the same conceptual design as in 'Life and death: Beach Volleyball' and so we promised the client that we would take some sample shots. The photographs in Zhengzhou were ordinarily martial arts performance shots with very few swimsuit shots. We published these shots on the Internet. Later on, we transferred the website and all the photographs to another American company, after which we cannot control how the photographs are being disseminated. That company would distribute mostly swimsuit photos at bikinikungfu.com, but that wasn't anything we can do. At the time of the transfer, we neglected to revise the website registration information and that was how the netizens found us."
"Although our original idea was to promote Chinese kungfu in the United States and we followed American customs to take some swimsuit photographs, we did not imagine that this would create such a storm. We did not know that there were forum posts about this matter on the Chinese Internet. When our company began to receive large numbers of condemnatory email, we found out about this. We feel that the netizens misunderstand because of cultural differences," Mr. Li expressed the position of Endless Forest.
Mr. Li included some links to certain paid American websites. "These websites obtained the consent of the guardians and got the children models to strike posts that are similar to those found at bikinikungfu.com. This is legal in the United States and no one is uncomfortable. Actually, such photographs not only exists in the United States, but such photographs are common in Latin American countries such as Brazil."
But Mr. Li admits that Yan Gaofei was a martial arts practitioner who grew up in China and he treated Chinese martial arts as a means of livelihood when he first arrived in the United States. "We now know that based upon Chinese standards, these photographs are unacceptable and may be against the law. The martial arts circle does not accept this type of activity."
Although the netizens found out that Yan Gaofei claimed to be the chief executive of Endless Forest, Mr. Li denied that: "Our chief executive is a doctor. After this incident, our company's investment plans in China has been affected. We originally planned to invest two to three million US dollars in China to export Chinese medicine, it seems that we will not be able to do business on account of bikinikungfu.com." Li said that he wants to tell the Chinese netizens that Endless Forest made an "unintentional mistake." "We thought that we were promoting Chinese martial arts, but just like shaking someone with the right hand is unacceptable in some countries, we were misunderstood and this was a cultural difference."
But Mr. Li could not offer the Morning News reporter the details of the initial contract with the martial arts school principal Mr. Yang and he did not provide the name of the new company which took over bikinikungfu.com. When former Henan Bo'ai Shaolin Martial Arts School principal Mr. Yang heard about the "photograph contract," he told the Morning News reporter: "There was no contract. I did not get a single cent. I thought that they were international friends and I spent money to receive them. They wanted to take photographs, but I was not aware that there were swimsuit photos. I don't know if the girls were paid." Mr. Yang said, "At this stage, there is nothing that I can do even if they come to arrest me. I hope that the media will not look up the girls, because this will affect their future lives."
On the bikinikungfu.com website, there was a photograph of a girl in a red t-back bikini showing a large part of her backside. That photograph was taken next to the window of a tall building. Through technical examination of the photograph, netizens discovered that there was a four-lane, five-green-meridian highway that must be in a major urban center. Recently, netizen and Xian media confirmed through their investigation that the photograph was taken from the Tianyi hotel in Xian near Xian's Tu Men West Ring Number Two Road.
Yesterday day, Endless Forest's Mr. Li told the Morning News reporter: "We confirmed with the website that some of the photographs were taken in Xian. Those photographs were filmed earlier this year. All the models had signed contracts with us and they had been paid. We do not believe that photographs of adults in swimwear constitute pornography."