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George Washington University Law School

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Kong Qingdong ordered to apologize and pay damages for insulting (anonymous!) commentator online

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:

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/china_law_prof_blog/2013/05/kong-qingdong-ordered-to-apologize-and-pay-damages-for-insulting-anonymous-commentator-online.html

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Comments

No legal system worth its salt should fritter away its time and resources on defamation cases arising from trivial internet flaming, such as thin-skinned Guan Kaiyuan's suit against the predictably intemperate Kong Qingdong's invective. Perhaps this imbroglio indeed derives in part from the Party's penchant to speak on behalf of the legions of "hurt-feelings" Lin Daiyus supposedly out there in the populace who spend almost all their time taking umbrage at foreign countries' latest slight directed at China.

Posted by: Phil | May 15, 2013 9:02:38 AM

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