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Chinese Security Mysteries and Social Networking

The old saying is that “information wants to be free.” In China this has proven to be helpful for citizen activists who use social networks to report and try to collaboratively solve mysteries in security.

First I noticed in What’s On in Ningbo (WON) the case of a corn cob thrown from a speeding police car.

The corn cob incident


That basically says “a white bag with a corn cob was thrown out of a window while driving 90 mph. It was a police car with Zhejiang B (Ningbo) plates.” My favorite part of the story is a quantified risk analysis offered as perspective.


I’m not sure but I think that says “The danger from a corn cob at 80 mph is like a 0.4 oz bullet hitting a 9 lb watermelon.” The watermelon not only is a reference commonly used for impact calculations but also a very popular fruit in China.

Anyway, photos of the car with a description of the incident with details like “Hangzhou-Ningbo Expressway to the direction of Ningbo, Yuyao near the toll station” were posted to a Sina Weibo microblog site. Soon after the topic gained hundreds of comments and thousands of views, prompting the police to issue a statement.


That says on June 6th a police car was traveling with 6 suspects in their car (really, 6 suspects on the 6th day of the 6th month?). One of the suspects was said to have thrown a corn cob out the window without being detected.

The statement was obviously not satisfactory. It raised questions like 1) why can a detainee throw anything out a window 2) how did a corn cob get in the car 3) why are six detainees in one car 4) why are biodegradable corn cobs in a non biodegradable plastic bag…eh, nevermind the last question.

Eventually the police made more statements and copped to performing below expectations. They apologized for the incident and asked the public for continued supervision and support.

Second, I also noticed in Ningbo news a story about a mysterious gap in surveillance.

The disappearing passenger incident

Soon after a taxi stopped for two passengers the police were called in to investigate.

Twenty minutes into the drive, Hong, who had gotten into the back seat, had disappeared. The door was closed and no sound had been heard.

Having failed to locate Hong or connect with him via his phone, Liang and Peng called the police. The police found that the video on the car’s monitoring system was blank from 7:49 pm to 9:10 pm, spanning the time when Hong disappeared.

The story was posted to a Sina Weibo microblog site and speculatons reached into the thousands. Could it have been a wormhole? Was Hong a ghost? Did he throw himself out the window in a plastic bag?

Instead, it turned out to be a very simple problem.

On the night of August 4, the police declared that Hong did not in fact disappear. He was left on the curb when the taxi pulled away, with Liang and Peng assuming he was inside. Hong’s mobile phone happened to be broken that night.

To better understand the Chinese perspective on this story (and how it became so popular) you have to include some cultural elements. 1) It is common for taxi passengers to sit in the front seat and not look at the back seat 2) Chinese are not accustomed to voicemail and expect people to answer the phone immediately 3) Infrastructure tends to be trusted but not verified.

Posted in Food, Security.

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