Monday, December 2, 2013
I recently posted on a controversy involving the use of language from Wikipedia in expert opinions, and want to follow up on one point that makes the case for disqualifying Prof. Feinerman (or any expert in a similar situation) even weaker. The Bloomberg news report said that what was involved was a "report summarizing his proposed testimony" (emphasis added). I now understand the significance of this. The document Prof. Feinerman submitted was not his testimony; it was a disclosure submitted to the defense that summarized what he was going to say on direct examination during the trial. If I understand matters correctly, that document would not even be read by the fact-finder; it is solely to put the defense on notice as to what the expert intends to say. As such, the source of the words in that document is completely unimportant, and it is missing the point to apply academic standards to such a document. I have already explained in my previous post why it misses the point to apply academic standards to expert testimony, and now it appears we are talking about a document that is itself once removed from expert testimony. It is in effect notes for an oral presentation of expert testimony.
Look at it this way: suppose I am an expert astronomer called upon to present oral testimony about the structure of the solar system. I tend to ramble, so I want to make sure I cover all the important facts, but concisely. I read the Wikipedia entry on the solar system and think, "Hey, this is pretty good. No mistakes, and it says what I want to say quite well." I print out the Wikipedia entry and send a copy to the other side so they'll have advance notice of the content of my testimony. I also take it with me to my oral testimony. I might or might not look at it as I testify to remind me what needs to be said. My oral testimony does not, of course, duplicate the Wikipedia entry word for word, but nobody who had read the Wikipedia entry would be taken by surprise by anything I said. Can there possibly be anything improper about any of this? What unfairness is perpetrated by my failing to note that the source of the words in the document I sent to the other side was Wikipedia? Those words weren't even my actual testimony. The more I think about it, the more it all seems just a silly tempest in a teapot.
As with my first post, I have not discussed this matter with Prof. Feinerman; my view here is based on my understanding of the facts, which may be incorrect.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Why Chinese needs a good word for "irony", and why it's too soon to bid farewell to re-education through labor
I'm not one of those people who says that people whose language doesn't have a word for X can't conceive of X - after all, somebody conceived of the smartphone before there was a word for it - but it's really too bad Chinese doesn't have good word for "irony". Most ways of expressing the idea of irony in Chinese involve using the same term that's used to express the idea of satire (讽刺); they are serviceable in context, but hey, so is a sparkling wine when you really need champagne. Some situations just cry out for the perfect mot juste and not a clumsy workaround.
I was moved to this thought upon seeing (H/T: David Cowhig) this notice issued to a petitioner, apparently just a few days ago (full Chinese text and English translation appended at the end of this post):
The notice is issued by a department of the Changre municipal government in response to a complaint by someone named Hu Cheng that he was detained for two days under the rubric of "legal study class". The notice informs him that it's because he insisted on going to Beijing to petition during the 18th Party Congress, and that his detention under this rubric was justified under a document issued by the Jiangsu Province Department of Public Security. The notice helpfully adds that the document is secret.
The idea that the authorities behind this notice and document it refers to can teach Mr. Hu about legality offers, to use a seasonal metaphor, a whole cornucopia of irony. First, it is not illegal for Chinese citizens to go to Beijing to petition. Second, it is a bedrock principle of Chinese law that the liberty of the person may not be restricted - it doesn't matter whether you call it punishment, study class, whatever - except as authorized by a law passed by the National People's Congress or its Standing Committee. (Law on Legislation, Art. 8(v); that's one reason why re-education through labor, with its flimsy statutory basis, has been under attack.) Third, even if the Jiangsu Department of Public Security had the authority to issue regulations providing for the compulsory restriction of personal liberty (which it doesn't), it is another bedrock principle of Chinese law that administrative punishments of this kind must be justified by publicly available documents. You can't say, "Hey, we can lock you up, but we can't show you the basis for out authority - just trust us!"
This has implications for the much-trumpeted imminent abolition of re-education through labor (RETL) that was announced in the Decision of the recent 3rd Plenum. The abolition of RETL, while advocated by many in the legal community for years, has been long delayed because it seems the public security folks are just too loathe to give it up. They like the informality and unaccountability it offers. When the Decision came out, many wondered: can this really be true? Will it not just re-appear in another form?
"Study class" may be that other form (although it is unlikely to last as long as RETL sentences, which can be up to three years plus an additional year in some circumstances). I was at a conference just a week or so ago at which one of the attendees recounted his conversation with a Supreme People's Court judge on this very subject, and the judge said that people freed from RETL might just go into legal study classes. One should never underestimate the ability of the public security bureaucracy to think of new names for holding people without statutory authority. The fault, though, does not really lie with the police. They're just doing what police do. The fault lies with the system that allows creative re-naming to become a successful strategy, and fails to enforce the simple rule that restriction of personal liberty requires a statute from the NPC or its Standing Committee.
* * * * *
Text of Notice and Translation
Changre City Office of the Joint Conference on Handling Mass Incidents and Prominent Problems in Petitioning
Comrade Hu Cheng:
With regard to the issue you have reported of a legal study class being implemented upon you from Nov. 1, 2012 to Nov. 3, 2012:
During the period of the Party’s 18th Congress, when the Jiangsu Higher-Level People’s Court rejected your application for a re-trial, you did not listen to persuasion but stubbornly insisted on going to Beijing to petition. According to the relevant provisions of the Jiangsu Province Department of Public Security Notice No. 120 (2008) entitled “Opinion on Several Issues Relating to Handling According to Law the Unlawful Behavior of Persons Who Go to Beijing to Petition” (Secret), legal education may be imposed by Party and government organizations of the petitioner’s domicile or place of usual residence. Legal education shall be carried out through the implementation of study classes and other means. Therefore, implementing a legal study class upon you is in accordance with the stipulations of the above document.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Defense attorneys in a criminal trial for economic espionage have moved to disqualify the prosecution’s expert witness, Prof. James Feinerman of Georgetown Law Center, because (they allege) large portions of his expert witness report (a document that summarizes his proposed testimony) contain verbatim extracts from Wikipedia entries on China’s technology, high-technology development plan, and Communist Party. (Here’s the news report.) I have not seen either Prof. Feinerman’s report or the motion to disqualify him, so what follows is based solely on the news report. I should also add that Prof. Feinerman is a personal friend and colleague, so weigh that as you will.
In thinking about the appropriateness of using Wikipedia, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind: first, the difference between an expert witness report and an academic article, and second, what the language in Wikipedia is actually being used for.
In an academic article, nothing should rest on the authority or existing reputation of the author. The article should speak for itself and should present evidence and arguments in favor of its conclusion. An academic article should never say or imply, “Take my word for it because I’m an eminent professor in the field.” It would not count as a serious criticism of a paper by a junior scholar to point out that a position taken in her paper was contrary to the position taken in a paper by a senior scholar.
This is not wholly true in an expert witness report. Here we are generally not asking the witness to engage in original research; we are asking him to tell us what experts in the field think of a particular question. Instead of concluding from the content of the writing that the writer (whom we may never have heard of before) deserves to be called an expert – this is what we might do in the academic context – we start from the premise that the writer is an expert and then see what he has to say about the subject. That’s why it would be improper for an academic journal to publish articles only from senior professors at big-name universities, but is wholly proper for a court to inquire into the qualifications of those presented to it as experts. Of course, the expert can bolster his testimony and make it more powerful by alluding to specific evidence supporting his opinion and citing to other prominent experts in the field who agree with him, but that’s not required by the logic of expert witnessing. What is required by the logic of expert witnessing is for the expert to say something like, “I am an expert in this field, and here is my view of the issues based on my expertise.”
Now let’s go back to Wikipedia. Any given entry is written by anonymous people about whom we know nothing. Consequently, to cite Wikipedia as authority for some proposition is a bad idea, whether in an academic article or in an expert witness report. (Wikipedia can still be useful academically if the article’s claims are well documented in footnotes; you can just chase down the footnote references.) Note, however, that Prof. Feinerman is not accused of citing Wikipedia as authority for what he wrote; he did not say, “The Communist Party operates in the following way, and I know this is true because it says so in Wikipedia.”
What I think he has done – I cannot read his mind and have not discussed this matter with him – seems to me not in essence different from declaring in his report, “I have reviewed the Wikipedia entry on X, and in my expert opinion I believe it accurately states the relevant facts.” In other words, while Wikipedia is not reliable as an authority, that doesn’t mean it is always wrong. The entry might well be accurate, at least in the opinion of the person reading it. I don’t think any objection could be made to a declaration of this kind.
The next question is, if an expert believes that certain language in a Wikipedia entry accurately reflects his personal views on some matter, is there any reason he should not use it? The reason for using it is quite simple: the expert is probably getting paid by the hour, and like anyone getting paid by the hour, he has an ethical duty not to needlessly inflate the time required to perform a job. If a Wikipedia entry accurately sums up everything the expert might want to say, why should he take the time to engage in an artificial re-writing exercise that will just add to the bill? I don’t think it makes sense to disqualify an expert because he tried to do the job at lower cost.
Finally, there is the question of whether the verbatim quotations from Wikipedia should be properly footnoted. An expert witness report is not an academic paper for which the author seeks academic credit, so personally I don’t see an academic integrity issue in this case. The author is not asking you to admire his words or his thoughts. He is testifying about the content of the ideas expressed by the words, and he is doing so on the basis of his own pre-existing authority and reputation. In this sense, direct quotation is not different from indirect quotation or re-writing. At the same time, quoting a source directly without a footnote is bound to lead (and in this case has led) to the suspicion that something is being concealed. That's not good. Thus, my gut feeling (subject to change upon further reflection) is that despite the differences between academic articles and expert witness reports, it makes sense to follow the same citation rules in each instead of spending a lot of time trying to figure out when the different context justifies different rules.
In this particular case, I don’t think failure to cite should count as a reason for disqualification. As I understand it, experts may be disqualified on grounds such as (a) lack of expertise, or (b) evidence that they are saying something they don’t really believe (e.g., previous writings in which they take a completely different position on the same issue). Neither of those problems is (as I understand the story) alleged to exist here.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Here's a nice brief piece (in Chinese) by Caixin's legal affairs commentator reviewing judicial reform policies since the late 1990s through to today as a context for understanding what the Third Plenum's communique says about judicial reform (not much).
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Here are the Chinese and English texts. Nothing terribly earth-shattering, either in the realm of law or anywhere else. Since Chris Buckley of the New York Times expressed an interest on Twitter in a plenum limerick, I herewith oblige:
One might ask of the Party’s 3rd Plenum:
All these slogans – do you really mean 'em?
We waited, all eager,
But their substance is meager,
And it’s not the first time that we’ve seen 'em.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
There's a general consensus among Chinese and foreign scholars of Chinese law that whatever advantages the current system of local leadership over courts and procuratorates may have, they are far outweighed by the disadvantages. Local political leadership controls personnel and finances of courts and procuratorates at the same administrative level, and this naturally makes courts and procuratorates tend to listen to local political leaders, even when their wishes go against what the law might require.
Proposals to centralize control over court personnel and finances have been around for what seems like decades now, but have never gotten anywhere. The principle of local control is quite strong in China, and as courts and procuratorates are viewed by local governments as just another bureaucracy, one can understand why they would not feel there was anything special about them justifying a special governance and accountability structure. Moreover, any centralization would require amendment not only of the Court Organization Law, but of the Constitution itself: Article 101 provides that local people's congresses at the county level and above have the power of appointment and dismissal over chief judges and chief procurators at the same level, although interestingly appointment and dismissal of a chief procurator requires the approval of the higher-level procuratorate and people's congress standing committee.
In any case, the Duowei news service (not always reliable) reports yet another initiative to centralize the power of personnel appointment and finances over courts. Whether this time it will go anywhere is anyone's guess.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Is a high-energy scanner a "like product" with a low-energy scanner? MOFCOM says yes, WTO panel says no.
I had a look today at the WTO panel decision in China - Definitive Anti-Dumping Duties on X-Ray Security Inspection Equipment from the European Union. This was a complaint by the EU against China for its finding of dumping against Smiths Heimann GmbH ("Smiths"), a European exporter of x-ray security inspection equipment, i.e., scanning machines.
Smiths might have been justified in thinking it had not received an entirely fair hearing before the Ministry of Commerce ("MOFCOM"); the Chinese complainant, Nuctech, was closely associated with Chinese leader Hu Jintao's son, Hu Haifeng - he had been president of the company until 2008, when he was promoted to become the Party secretary of Tsinghua Holdings, a company that controls Nuctech and a number of other companies. In any case, the WTO panel seems to have agreed. It found pretty much across the board in favor of the EU.
An interesting aspect of the case was the question of whether the so-called "low energy scanners" exported by Smiths were a "like product" with high-energy scanners manufactured by Nuctech. It worked in Nuctech's favor to find that they were, and MOFCOM duly so found. The panel was not impressed. In fact, it even bolstered its finding by including in the report photographs of each kind of scanner. You be the judge:
Am I being too cynical to suspect that the fix was in?
Friday, August 23, 2013
I've finally gone through the transcripts from day 2 of the Bo Xilai trial. Here are a few observations, in no particular order:
- As in day 1, there's an awful lot of evidence about stuff Gu Kailai did and varions things Xu Ming did for the family, but almost nothing that suggests a quid pro quo delivered by Bo in exchange for all these goodies. At one point Bo (pretty much correctly) pointed out that 99% of what the prosecutor was saying was irrelevant to the question of his guilt. The only direct piece of evidence I can recall is Bo's own confession from his time in shuanggui (Party disciplinary) detention, in which he says that he did a lot for Xu Ming in return, including some quite unusual favors. He explicitly uses the word "trade" (交易).
- Using Bo's shuanggui confession against him is problematic. Evidence gathered in the shuanggui process isn't supposed to be admissible in court; the prosecution is supposed to re-gather the evidence. Even unencumbered by a "fruit of the poisonous tree" doctrine, however, it seems they couldn't get Bo to repeat his confession in the post-shuanggui stage - i.e., the formal, lawful investigative stage - and so had to fall back on this one. Bo has asserted the illegality of this evidence and asked that it be excluded.
- Bo says at one point that when Gu Kailai spoke about her murdering of Neil Heywood, she said she felt like the famous assassin Jing Ke. Has Bo ever previously admitted to knowing (before she was accused, of course) that Gu Kailai murdered Heywood? He doesn't specify when she said this to him, but presumably the two wouldn't have had many chances to speak once she came under suspicion and was in detention.
- As usual in criminal trials, most witnesses fail to appear in court, despite the rule of the Law on Criminal Procedure that they should ordinarily do so. Art. 59 of the CPL says, "The testimony of a witness may be used as a basis in deciding a case only after the witness has been questioned and cross-examined in the courtroom by both sides, that is, the public prosecutor and victim as well as the defendant and defenders" (emphasis added). Pretty clear, right? Now, there are other rules in the CPL that contemplate admissible testimony from witnesses that do not show up in court (e.g., Art. 187 and 190), so clearly some exceptions are allowed. But it's hard to read the law as allowing exceptions to be so numerous as to become the rule, which is what we've ended up with.
- The grossest twisting of the rules on witnesses appears in the debate over Gu Kailai's testimony. Her testimony has been delivered via a written statement and a videotaped statement. According to the transcripts posted by the Jinan court, both Bo and the prosecution requested that she appear in court to testify, and the court agreed with the request. But when they went to the prison to ask that she come along, she refused. The court then, incredibly, cited Art. 188(1) of the CPL, which states that while reluctant witnesses can be required to appear in court, this does not apply to the spouse, children, or parents of the defendant. Now, I'm pretty sure this provision was intended to protect the defendant and his close relatives; it expresses something like a spousal privilege. Here it's being used perversely to prevent the defendant from directly cross-examining a hostile witness.
- Finally, what was the mysterious meat from a rare African animal that Guagua brought back from his African trip? It was in a wooden box and was supposed to be eaten raw. Bo refused (understandably, I must say - it couldn't have been too fresh by that time) so they cooked it. Gu Kailai says it lasted a month. Could this have been it?
UPDATE (Aug. 25, 2013): Yesterday I posted this text on my China-side blog (which I use as a mirror blog because this one is blocked in China); today I found that the post had been deleted by the blog host. I wonder which part of this analysis hit a nerve?
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Thursday, August 8, 2013
A day or two ago, former Singapore Prime Minister and glorified mayor Lee Kuan Yew made the amazing statement that Xi Jinping could be compared to Nelson Mandela. Personally, I'm afraid that the qualities needed to become capo di tutti capi in the Chinese Communist Party are not quite the same qualities needed to be a Mandela. I thought of that statement today when I came across this video of a jailhouse statement from Xu Zhiyong, the recently detained rights activist. This is a man who does seem to have those qualities.
Perhaps one day we will find that he has feet of clay. Well, so did Mandela and Martin Luther King. Xu is a pretty remarkable guy and his continued detention should not be forgotten. Of course he is not the first and won't be the last, and he is far from the worst treated. (Ni Yulan and Chen Guangcheng, for example, as well as their families, have all suffered atrociously.) But we can't always pick our symbols with perfect logical consistency. For some reason, Xu's detention seems to shout particularly loudly: What kind of government cannot tolerate even a person like this?
Here's the video; the text of his statement in Chinese and English (my translation) is below it.
倡导大家做公民，堂堂正正做公民，践行宪法规定的公民权利，履行公民责任；推动教育平权，随迁子女就地高考；呼吁官员财产公示。在这荒诞的时代，这就是我的三大罪状。 社会进步总得有人付出代价，我愿意为自由、公义、爱的信仰承担一切代价。无论这个社会怎么样，溃败，荒诞，这个国家需要一群勇敢的公民站出来，坚守信仰，把权利，责任，和梦想当真。 我很骄傲在自己的姓名面前署上“公民”两个字，希望大家也这样，在自己的名字前署上“公民”两个字。只要我们大家团结起来，共同努力，把公民的权利当真，把公民的身份当真，共同推动国家的民主，法治，公平，正义。我们一定能够建设一个自由、公义、爱的美好中国。
I encouraged everyone to be a citizen, to proudly and forthrightly be a citizen, to practice their rights as citizens set forth in the constitution and to undertake their responsibilities as citizens; I promoted equal rights in education and allowing children to take the university examination where they have followed their parents to live; I called for officials to disclose their assets. In these absurd times, those are my three crimes. Social progress always requires some people to pay a price. I am willing to pay any price for my belief in freedom, justice, and love. No matter how collapsed or absurd this society is, this country needs a group of brave citizens who will stand forth and hold fast to their beliefs, and will make a reality of their rights, responsibilities, and dreams. I’m proud to put the word ‘citizen’ before my name, and I hope everyone will likewise put the word ‘citizen’ before their name. As long as we unite and work together to make citizens’ rights a reality, and together promote democracy, rule of law, fairness and justice in our country, surely we can build a beautiful China of freedom, justice, and love.
Sunday, July 21, 2013
I just had an interesting lunch with one of China’s few openly gay lawyers, who also engages in activism on behalf of the LGBT community. Here are some interesting points from our conversation:
- We discussed the differences between antigay prejudice in the United States and in China. I asked whether he would agree with the idea that while in the United States one tended to have wide variation between two extremes – increasing toleration for same-sex marriage on the one hand and murderous hatred by some people on the other – in China there was a more widespread but much shallower kind of antigay prejudice. (Here and elsewhere I’m going to use “gay” and “LGBT” pretty much interchangeably, and the former should not be understood to exclude the latter.) He agreed that this was generally true, but noted that this was very possibly because gay people were simply not highly visible in China, and that once gays became more visible there might be a strong reaction from people who felt threatened. A fair point; let’s hope this does not come to pass. Still, I think that we can see extreme homophobia in many eras of European history when open homosexuality was virtually unthinkable (and therefore not plausible as a cause for extreme homophobia), but not in Chinese history. Come to think of it, it’s hard to find ideological extremism of any kind in traditional Chinese culture. When was the last time Chinese killed each other over religious differences?
- The LGBT community’s interactions with government are mostly with health departments. This is unfortunate, since that encourages thinking about homosexuality as a health problem, not (say) a civil rights issue. Officials are generally not hostile, but don’t see a need for laws protecting LGBTs from discrimination or violence on the grounds that they’re not seeing a lot of discrimination or violence going on. If my interlocutor is right, though, that may well be only because LGBTs are not (yet) highly visible.
- One discouraging part of our conversation: he noted that in general it was the house churches that were the most visible and outspoken homophobes in China. Generally Christian parents in the house churches, for example, have a much harder time accepting gay children than non-Christian Chinese parents (and you can imagine how hard it must be for them, in a culture that places such importance on transmission of the family name). This is truly unfortunate, because there doesn't seem to be anything about Christianity that requires homophobia of its adherents; many Christians manage to be so without obsessing over people's private sex lives. Unlike homosexuality, homophobia is a choice. I observed that many weiquan lawyers had converted to Christianity and wondered whether they had adopted the antigay views of the house churches as well. Unfortunately, it appears that some of them have. Take Wang Yi (王怡), for example – a constitutional law scholar and distinguished weiquan lawyer who’s now a pastor in a house church in Chengdu. He and his weibo followers are not, shall we say, sympathetic to equal rights for LGBTs. (See, for example, this post, which predicts that allowing gay marriage will lead to the destruction of marriage as an institution, or this one, which says that homosexuality is a form of idolatry, or this one, which says that homosexuals are sinners who will be judged - one presumes unfavorably - if they are not saved.) With China having so many human rights problems and the weiquan community facing so many difficulties, it seems unfathomably boneheaded to waste time and energy, and alienate potential allies, by worrying about what people want to do with their private parts. This kind of obsessive homophobia has no roots in traditional Chinese culture; it’s imported. But when shopping for values to import from the West, why on earth would one want to line up first at the hate counter?
Friday, July 19, 2013
Thursday, July 18, 2013
The following is a very slightly modified version of my contribution to the ChinaFile conversation on this subject:
When I heard that Xu Zhiyong had just been detained, my first thought was, “Again?” This seems to be something the authorities do every time they get nervous, a kind of political Alka Seltzer to settle an upset constitution. I searched the New York Times web site to confirm my intuition. Although my hopes were briefly raised by a pop-up ad that optimistically proclaimed, “We know where Xu Zhiyong is” and offered me his address, telephone number, and credit history, the stories in the results list were depressingly as expected: “A leading human rights advocate is detained in Beijing” (July 13, 2013); Xu Zhiyong “in the company of security agents and unable to talk” (Feb. 20, 2011); “Just before dawn on Wednesday, the founder of Gongmeng, Xu Zhiyong, was taken into police custody, and he has not been heard from since” (July 31, 2009). Two other detentions, on June 7, 2012 and in June 2011, didn’t show up. There may be more I’ve missed. In any case, this is clearly a man who knows his way around the back seat of a Black Maria.
Today’s topic is what, if anything, this detention means for the broader question of political reform in China. Let’s be clear: Xu Zhiyong is an extremist in his moderation. As Jeffrey Prescott, then at Yale’s China Law Center, said in 2009, “He is someone of rare idealism, judgment, commitment to law, selfless dedication, and fundamental decency. So that makes his detention very hard to understand.” Unfortunately, it is hard to understand only if we think that those responsible for detaining him share his values. Xu Zhiyong does not throw bombs. Unlike, say, Wei Jingsheng, he does not say insulting things that hurt the tender feelings of the leaders. He is the soul of reason and respectful discourse with all, including his police tormentors. Yet even this man is apparently intolerable.
Xu’s offense this time seems to have been his advocacy of asset disclosure by officials. (The charge, “assembling a crowd to disrupt order in a public place,” is the same laughably implausible one brought against Chen Guangcheng – both were under informal house arrest and constantly guarded at the time of their alleged offense.) The move against him is of a piece with recent detentions and harassment of citizen anti-corruption campaigners.
For some reason new leaders in socialist dictatorships are always thought to be reformers – even KGB boss Yuri Andropov upon his ascension to the Soviet leadership was hoped to be a closet liberal because he liked jazz and spoke English. The same expectations, with about the same justification, have greeted Xi Jinping. So far, he has not had time to do much. What he has done – for example, the anti-corruption campaign – he may well be quite sincere about; I see no reason to write it off as a show designed just to keep the masses distracted while the looting continues. But what he has not done is to show any sign of plans to make the Party accountable to the people. This does not mean that he and other leaders don’t want real reform in certain areas, or that they can’t accomplish it. But it does mean that reform will not involve outside accountability. We’ll handle it ourselves, thank you very much. Sorry, citizens: it’s really none of your business.
UPDATE: Now his lawyer has been detained as well - same absurd charge. Guys, can't you show a little creativity?
The Li Tianyi rape case has been in the news lately. Li is the son of a famous singer with the rank of general in the People's Liberation Army, and I think it's fair to say he is not the kind of nice boy you'd want your daughter to be dating. Back in September 2011 he was sentenced to a year in detention (at age 15) for having assaulted a couple in a fit of road rage:
The teenage boy, who is too young to drive legally, was behind the wheel of a BMW car with no licence plates when he found a middle-aged couple in another vehicle blocking his way in Beijing.
Li Tianyi and a second teenager, who was driving an Audi, leapt from their vehicles and, it is reported, assaulted the couple while shouting at shocked bystanders: "Don't you dare call police".
Half a year after getting out, he was allegedly involved in a gang rape at a Beijing hotel; formal charges were brought earlier this month.
Apparently things have not been going well with the defense; two attorneys have resigned. His new attorneys have taken their case to the media, arguing that the complainant was a bar hostess. Apparently they plan to plead not guilty, presumably on the grounds that she consented, or perhaps that in the case of bar hostesses the law should presume consent. Obviously I have no inside information on what actually happened on the night in question, but the general tenor of netizen opinion is that this is a typical case of a spoiled rich kid who thinks he can get away with anything. He's become the Joffrey Baratheon of Chinese pop culture.
Into this mess stepped Yi Yanyou (易延友), a professor at Tsinghua Law School and the head of its Evidence Law Center. Yi declared on his microblog that "raping a bar hostess is less harmful than raping a woman of good family" (强奸陪酒女也比强奸良家妇女危害性要小). This led to an outpouring of harsh criticism among netizens. Ignoring the first rule of holes - when you're in one, stop digging - Prof. Yi then clarified his remarks by revising the above sentence to read, "It does more harm to rape a woman of good family than to rape a bargirl, a dancing girl, an escort or a prostitute" (强奸良家妇女比强奸陪酒女、陪舞女、三陪女、妓女危害性要大). Somehow the critics were not mollified. By last Wednesday Prof. Yi had had enough - he deleted his post and apologized.
Prof. Yi's remarks don't come out of nowhere - he is in fact channelling a distinction well known in traditional Chinese law (it is codified in the Qing Code) between woman of good family (良家妇女) and licentious women (犯奸妇女). If, for example, a man saw a women engaging in illicit sexual intercourse with another and then raped her afterward, then because she was a licentious woman it could not be called rape but should instead be classified as illicit intercourse by trickery ("又如见妇人与人通奸，见者因而用强奸之，已系犯奸之妇，难以强论，依刁奸律"). (I'm relying for my translation on the Grand Ricci dictionary, which translates 刁奸 as "seduire une femme par la ruse"; that may not be correct as a translation of the legal term.) For more on this, see Vivien Ng, "Ideology and Sexuality: Rape Laws in Qing China," Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 46, no. 1 (Feb. 1987), pp. 57-70. Although the distinction finds no formal expression in modern Chinese law (not to my knowledge, anyway), here we see it alive and well in legal culture, so to speak, and expressed in exactly the same words as it was centuries ago.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013