Chinese Internet users are raging against the anonymous author of a blog they say insulted China with its purported accounts of a British teacher's sexual exploits among Shanghai women.
However, a person responding to an e-mail to a contact address on the site said the authors were a group of performance artists who had fabricated its content as an investigation into online vigilante behavior.
"We did not anticipate quite the level of anger this would raise," said the message, which said the authors behind the cyber name "Chinabounder" included a British man, an Australian woman, two Chinese men and a Japanese woman.
The message said the blog had been closed out of concern for the safety of the group's Chinese members and ordinary expatriates in Shanghai.
The English-language blog, called "Sex and Shanghai," was inaccessible Thursday, but a cached page could be read through the Google search engine. Along with mildly lurid accounts of dates with Chinese women, it contained irreverent comments about Chinese society, and some on the controversy generated by the blog.
Critics of the blog had demanded that "Chinabounder" be unmasked and kicked out of China.
"Chase down the foreign scoundrel on the Internet," Zhang Jiehai, a professor of psychology at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in an essay posted on his own Chinese-language blog.
"We need to find this foreign filth and kick him out of China," Zhang wrote.
Numerous reader postings on Zhang's blog supported his call for a manhunt, often in highly profane terms.
"This kind of garbage, chop his head off," wrote one who signed as "sanipuga." "Pardon me, but I think these women are also garbage, national scum," said another, signed "Jiehuo."
Shanghai, one of China's most cosmopolitan cities, has a foreign population in the tens of thousands, many of them students and language teachers. Intimate relationships between locals and foreigners have grown increasingly common, but reports of racial tension are rare.
Police would not immediately comment on the blog and requested an inquiry in writing.
China has quickly developed the world's second-largest population of Internet users after the United States, with more 123 million people online. The rapid growth has outrun the authorities' constant attempts to police the Web, despite continual campaigns to step up surveillance and control.
Meanwhile, nine people went on trial this week for operating what is being called China's largest pornographic Web site, boasting more than 9 million pornographic images and articles viewed by 600,000 registered members.
The site, named "Pornographic Summer," was based overseas and operators regularly changed its domain name and switched servers and IP address to avoid detection, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The men collected up to 266 yuan (US$33) from about 400,000 paying subscribers, Xinhua said, with the first 200,000 who joined paying nothing.
It said the trial began Wednesday in the northern city of Taiyuan, but didn't say what penalties the men face.
In China, as elsewhere, widespread Internet use has also facilitated online fraud and cyber-vigilantism.
In one well-known case, an angry husband who suspected his wife was having an affair with a college student called for help tracking him down. The student, who denied the accusation, was bombarded with harassing and threatening e-mails.
Despite the outrage among many Chinese, Chinabounder had at least one fan.
An overseas-born ethnic Chinese woman set up a site "Chinabounderess," that among other postings praises Chinabounder as a strong writer with a good knowledge of Chinese history.© 2006 AP DIGITAL