Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Most people who study Chinese law learn early on about Judge Dee, "a semi-fictional character based on the historical figure Di Renjie, magistrate and statesman of the Tang court. The character first appeared in the 18th century Chinese detective novel Di Gong An. After Robert van Gulik came across it in a second-hand book store in Tokyo, he translated the novel into English and then used the style and characters to write his original Judge Dee stories." (The quoted text is from the Wikipedia entry.)
Now in addition to van Gulik's great stories, we have the Judge Dee computer game. I have no idea if it's any good, and they've written the wrong character for Dee on the main page (蒂 instead of 狄), but hey, anything as amazing as a computer game about Chinese legal history is worth a mention. If anyone tries it out, please let me know what you think in the comments.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
The Dui Hua Foundation has an interesting article on its web site about local authorities' newfound enthusiasm for legal education - this time, of the compulsory kind, where petitioners are forced against their will to stay for days or even months at a facility where they are ostensibly to be educated to understand and obey the law. This is apparently being done in response to the declining utility of re-education through labor (RETL) as a measure against petitioners - petitioning per se may soon no longer be subject to RETL, and RETL itself may be on the way out.
I just want to add a couple of comments. First, it bears repeating that petitioning of the kind that typically gets petitioners locked up does not in fact violate any law. It's the local authorities that need the education in that respect.
Second, and more importantly, the Dui Hua Foundation article says only that this kind of compulsory "legal education" violates the Chinese constitution and international human rights norms. This is an unnecessarily weak argument; neither of those two norms are robust sources of law in the Chinese legal system. We can actually say something much stronger. Since compulsory legal education does not have any foundation in statutory law - that is, legislation passed by the National People's Congress or its Standing Committee - then it cannot serve as a basis for the deprivation of personal liberty. This is spelled out clearly in Article 8 of the Law on Legislation, and it's the same argument that has been made against RETL. If a deprivation of personal liberty has no legal basis, then it's either kidnapping or unlawful detention, both of which violate the Criminal Law, which is a robust source of law in the Chinese legal system. So let's call this what it is.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Here's a story that goes straight to the ridiculous without passing the sublime. Self-styled direct descendant of Confucius, Peking University professor (shame on you, PKU!), and all-around blowhard Kong Qingdong (孔庆东) was ordered on Wednesday by the Haidian Basic-Level People's Court to apologize and pay 200 yuan to Guan Kaiyuan, a 22-year-old law student at the China Institute of Industrial Relations. After Guan had criticized a poem by Kong as not following proper composition rules, Kong responded on Sina Weibo (Chinese Twitter), "You haven't even read the poem, you dog and traitor," and added some salty references to Guan's mother.
Guan, who is obviously one of those Chinese people we keep hearing about from the government whose delicate feelings are easily hurt, sued. It's not clear from news reports what the exact claim was - presumably defamation. Anyway, Guan still isn't satisfied - he wants Kong to be required to apologize on his Weibo account, not just in some national newspaper.
While one hates to be in the position of defending someone like Kong, this is ridiculous. Guan posted his critique, and received the insult, under a pseudonym. In other words, even if we decided that ordinary insults like "dog" and "traitor" should be actionable as defamation - something that would already severely crimp ordinary speech - in this case nobody knew the insult was directed against Guan until he outed himself. Do the courts really want to overload themselves with cases from every anonymous troll who managed to provoke a rude response?
Some relevant references:
- South China Morning Post report
- Shanghaiist report
- Beijing News report (in Chinese)
- Language Log post showing that everyone in China and probably many outside are descended from Confucius, too
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Here's a great translation and commentary from the Siweiluozi blog regarding a 2009 Supreme People's Court directive to lower courts on "internet management" (i.e., censorship). In a typical case, a user posts something on the internet, perhaps on a blog or weibo account. The authorities, finding it distasteful, instruct the host to delete it. The host duly deletes it. The user then sues the host for violating the terms of the service contract. Because the censorship instructions to the host have a flimsy legal status - they are probably an oral order from a Party, not state, body delivered over the phone - mounting a defense is difficult and embarrassing.
To the rescue rides the SPC, which instructs courts simply not to accept this kind of case. That way, the flimsy legality of the censorship regime is not exposed.
As Siweiluozi points out, this merely highlights the nature of the courts as administrative and not really judicial bodies. They have precisely as much independence as the Party-state allows them for the sake of convenience, but when a political decision is made to use (or avoid the use of) the law in a certain way, they must fall into line. This instruction from the SPC requires courts to act contrary to statutory law, which already sets forth conditions under which courts should and should not accept lawsuits for hearing. None of the considerations in the SPC's directive can be found in the statute. Indeed, the SPC acknowledges the flimsy legal status of its own directive, by making it secret and prohibiting public comment.