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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Supreme People's Court Website: No Liability for Inappropriate Speech Directed at Historical Nihilists

On October 19, 2016, China's Supreme People's Court published a piece on its website entitled "People's Courts Come to the Defense of the 'Five Heroes of Wolf Tooth Mountain' and Other Model Cases Involving the Right of Human Dignity of Heroic Figures" (人民法院依法保护“狼牙山五壮士”等英雄人物人格权益典型案例). 

This blog previously summarized two of the four cases discussed in the article:
  • A Dispute Wherein Huang Zhong and Hong Zhenkuai Sue Mei Xinyu for Infringing Their Right to Reputation
  • A Dispute Wherein Huang Zhong and Hong Zhenkuai Sue Guo Songmin for Infringing Their Right to Reputation
See: Courts Hold Referring to Historical Nihilists as "Sons of Bitches" is Not Defamatory

The SPC website article began by going over the facts of each case, which are summarized here:
  • In its November 2013 edition the journal Yanhuang Chunqiu (炎黄春秋) published an article entitled “Inconsistent Details in the 'Five Heroes of Wolf Tooth Mountain” (狼牙山五壮士”的细节分歧). The article was authored by Hong Zhenkuai (洪振快) and edited by Huang Zhong (黄钟).
  • On November 23, 2013, Mei Xinyu (梅新育) posted the following statement on his verified Sina Weibo:
"What is motivating the editors and writers at 'Yanhuang Chunqiu'? Couldn't dig up a turnip to eat during a time of war? Is it too polite to say these kinds of writers and authors are sons of bitches?"
《炎黄春秋》的这些编辑和作者是些什么心肠啊?打仗的时候都不能拔个萝卜吃?说这样的作者和编辑属狗娘养的是不是太客气了?
  • The same day, Guo Songmin (郭松民) reposted Mei’s post and added the following comment on his verified Sina Weibo:
Oppose historical nihilism, if nothing is done about this gang of sons of bitches its a joke!
反对历史虚无主义,不动这帮狗娘养的就是笑话!
  • In March 2014, Huang and Hong sued Mei and Guo for defamation in separate lawsuits. Huang and Hong lost.
The SPC website article then provided the following explanations for why these cases were “model.”

Mei Xinyu
This case is a model case of infringement of the right to reputation arising from weibo statements evaluating a third party's article. What makes this case a model case is that the defendant's statements were evaluations and criticisms directed at an article by the plaintiffs regarding the historical heroic figures and historical events of the "Five Heroes of Wolf Tooth Mountain." Whether or not the defendant's statements exceeded necessary bounds of propriety and infringement upon their personal dignity implicates several factors such as:
  • the matters related in the article published by the plaintiffs;
  • the degree to which the plaintiffs could have foreseen the criticisms and assessments of third parties that the article they published would trigger, and the duty of tolerance that they should bear as a result;
  • the subjective circumstances under which the defendant published their statements;
  • whether or not the statements led to the public holding a lower opinion of the plaintiffs.
These are the major factors to be considered when determining whether the defendant's actions constitute an infringement, and are also the major and difficult issues in cases involving infringement of the right to reputation.

In this case, from the People's Court's analysis of the significant historical meaning of the historical figures and historical incidents implicated in the content of the plaintiff's article, it believed that the plaintiffs bore a relatively high duty of tolerance toward the statements triggered by the article, and relatively correctly defined the duty of care the plaintiffs bore for their own statements. Considering such aspects as the defendant's subjective motivation in publishing their statements and the targets of their criticism, as well as method by which those in the public who read their statements received information and made their assessments of the plaintiffs, the court held that while the defendant's statements were inappropriate, they did not constitute an infringement of rights. This was an accurate and comprehensive application of current law which balanced a party's freedom to act with the safeguarding of the legal rights and interests of others.
本案是微博言论评价他人文章所引发的名誉权侵权的典型案例。本案的典型之处在于,被告的言论,系对原告所发表的关于“狼牙山五壮士”这一历史英雄人物及其历史事件的文章作出的评价和批评。被告的言论是否超出必要的限度、其妥当性以及是否侵害他人人格,涉及到原告所发表文章涉及的事项、原告对于所发表文章所引发他人批评或评价的预见程度和应当负有的相应的容忍义务,以及被告所发表言论的主观状态、其言论是否导致原告社会评价降低等因素,均为被告是否构成侵权的重要考量因素,也是名誉权侵权案件中的重点和难点问题。本案中,人民法院从原告所发表文章的内容以及其涉及的历史人物及其历史事件的重大历史意义分析,认为原告对于该文所引发的言论具有较高的容忍义务,较为准确地界定了原告对于自己言论的注意义务;从被告发表言论的主观动机以及其言论所批评的对象、受众从其言论中获得信息的方式以及受众由此对原告所作出的社会评价等方面,认定被告并未构成侵权的同时,指出其言论亦有不当之处,在准确、全面适用现行法的同时,更是贯彻了侵权法平衡行为人的行为自由与保护他人合法权益的原则。
Guo Songmin
This case arose from the same article that triggered the case in which Huang Zhong and Hong Zhenkuai sued Mei Xinyu for infringing on their right to reputation. In this case, when the People's Court analyzed whether or not the defendant committed an infringement, it stressed that the people's heroes, heroic deeds and their spirit represented by the "Five Heroes of Wolf Tooth Mountain" have become an important component of the common historical memory of the Chinese people, as well as an important aspect of the Chinese sentiment and spiritual world. The article published by the plaintiffs casts doubts upon the public consensus and mainstream value system, and they should have foreseen the assessments that it would trigger, and they should bear a relatively high duty of tolerance. 

At the same time, the court also conducted a comprehensive evaluation of various facets including the overall new developments brought about by tolerance of statements on Internet media and the social media tools of the Internet era, as well as the subjective nature of, the cause-and-effect relationship of, and damages arising from, the defendant's statements.
本案与黄钟、洪振快诉梅新育名誉权侵权案系由同一文章所引发的关联案件。在本案中,人民法院在分析被告是否构成侵权时,强调以“狼牙山五壮士”为代表的民族英雄、英雄事迹以及其精神,已经成为中华民族共同历史记忆和中华民族感情及精神世界的重要内容。原告所发表文章对前述社会共识及主流价值观提出质疑,就应当预见到其可能引发的评价,亦应负有较高的注意义务。同时,结合网络媒体及互联网时代的社交媒体工具对言论容忍度带来的新变化,以及被告的言论在主观、因果关系以及损害后果方面等因素作出综合评价。应该说,这一判决准确把握了侵权法在互联网时代的新发展,妥当界分了对立言论之间的相互关系。