Feng Zhenghu: Taking Air China to Court

After he was denied re-entry to China eight times, lived in ’s for 92 days in 2009-2010. Now Feng is telling the story of his airport odyssey on his blog, and CDT is translating his account.

This is part 35. Read previous installments here.

December 7, 2009

Today is December 7, my 34th day camped at ’s doorstep.

At 10:00 a.m., Professor Zhao Jing from the United States gave me a call. As the first Chinese living in the U.S. to sign “Citizen Appeal to Support Feng Zhenghu’s Return Home” this July, he has been concerned with the problem of my repatriation from the very beginning. A graduate of the Department of Engineering Physics at Tsinghua University, he later studied abroad in Osaka, earning his doctorate in sociology. He is the founder of Humanitarian China and currently serves as the director of the US-Japan-China Comparative Policy Research Institute. I met with him when I visited the U.S. in October, and also had dinner with him and his friends.

He had heard that I was now accepting donations, having publicly released my bank account number in Japan. He was calling to say, “We’re willing to accept money on your behalf in the U.S. If your American donors use the account for Humanitarian China instead, they can save the $50 transfer fee, and their donations will be tax deductible.” I thought that this was a good idea, so I agreed to let them collect money on my behalf.

For donors in the United States, donations to support Feng Zhenghu can be sent by wire transfer to Humanitarian China:

Humanitarian China
P.O. Box 7265
Fremont, CA 94537 USA
Tax-deductible

I’ve already received some donations, mostly anonymous. I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to all the donors, even those who have donated just ten dollars. By providing financial assistance to help with my return home, you have all demonstrated your compassion, trust, and support.

My account information is as follows:

Japanese bank account: Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ 272-1590194 Feng Zhenghu

PayPal account: fzh999net@gmail.com

Chinese bank account: Bank of China 4038505-0188-038792-6 Feng Zhenghu

At 12:30, the on-duty head immigration officer delivered another official letter, the content of which was the same as yesterday, with only the date changed. As before, when he gave me the letter he also took a picture with me. Continuing to carry out my responsibilities on behalf of the Chinese diplomatic corps, I passed on the letter to the Chinese government.

At 1:00 a four-person delegation from the BBC arrived to interview me. The interview lasted about an hour and a half. The presenter and I sat on the floor while we talked. Later, the cameraman filmed scenes from my life at the airport: walking, sitting in protest, typing on my computer. Seems like the BBC decided to collect a fair amount of material this time. It just so happened that a flight arrived during my interview, with several of the passengers recognizing me, waving hello, and taking pictures. An older couple even gave me bunch of bananas. There ended up being quite a to-do for the reporters to film. I wouldn’t be surprised if media from around the world are including pictures of me while reporting my story, which is why so many passengers are starting to recognize me.

The BBC is a major media outlet in the UK and carries some weight in Japan as well, so the administrative director of the Narita International Airport Corporation also accepted an interview. Nowadays Japanese businesses are more willing to appear on the international stage to comment on this incident than the Japanese government is, in the hope that the Chinese government will let me return sooner rather than later.

In the evening my sister called to let me know that she had attended the first court hearing for my lawsuit against Northwest Airlines along with my lawyer. They met in the conference room of the district court of Chiba Prefecture at 1:00 p.m. Two first clerks and a judge entered the room, asked the defendant to stand up, and then to be seated again. The judge asked if the lawyer representing the plaintiff had received the defendant’s response to the suit, to which my lawyer replied, “We have already read the response. We will provide the plaintiff’s objections at our next meeting.”

It was decided that the next hearing will be held on January 20, 2010 at 3:00 p.m., thus concluding the two-to-three-minute-long hearing. The Japanese civil appeal process takes a long time, with both parties discussing the problem quite thoroughly, over and over again. Whoever’s argument doesn’t stand up to reason, loses. We’ve already read the defendant’s response to the suit. Unlike Air China, they don’t deny the illegality of their actions, but they blame the authorities in for forcing their hand. I think that they should take responsibility for their actions, though, so I don’t care that the lawsuit is moving so slowly. The longer it takes, the better it is for me, and the worse it is for these companies who made mistakes, since there’s no way for them to erase their broken reputations.

The second hearing for the lawsuit against Air China will be held at 10:30 a.m. on December 14, in Courtroom 610 of the Tokyo District Court. I’d like to invite my Twitter friends to read the “Account of the First Court Hearing for Feng Zhenghu’s Lawsuit Against Air China” and “Feng Zhenghu’s Court Statement (Chinese Translation).” While it’s clear that the contents of the next hearing will be really spectacular, we’ll just have to wait and see how my lawyer deals with the preposterous response to our lawsuit.

I’ve already entrusted the litigation against the two airlines to a Japanese lawyer, so there’s no need for me to worry about either case now. I’ll just wait at Japan’s doorstep with all my might to be let home.

I also plan to send the online media outlets “Feng Zhenghu Presents the December 7 Official Letter (No. 5) from the Government of Japan to the Government of China,” with a picture of the letter attached.

Appendix I: Account of the First Court Hearing for Feng Zhenghu’s Lawsuit Against Air China

At 10:00 a.m. on November 2, 2009, the lawsuit against defendant China Airlines Ltd. took place in Courtroom 610 of the Tokyo District Court. Myself, Feng Zhenghu’s lawyer, the lawyers for the defendant, the court secretaries, and the assembled journalists all waited quietly for the judge to appear.

When the time to begin the trial arrived, the judge opened the door right on time, walking into the courtroom and taking his seat at the front of the room. At this time, everyone stood up in respect. After the judge sat down, we also sat. This was followed by two minutes of waiting while the journalists took photographs of the proceedings with the permission of the court. The judge had notified our lawyer beforehand that journalists would be taking pictures. Perhaps because they didn’t want to be photographed, the lawyers for the defendant sat in the audience, only taking their seats after the reporters had finished taking their photographs.

The judge announced that court was now in session. First, my lawyer, through the court secretary, presented my passport and photographs of the defendant refusing to allow the plaintiff to board at Narita International Airport to the lawyers for the defendant to confirm their authenticity. The lawyers for the defendant acknowledged the authenticity of the evidence, and returned the evidence. The judge asked our lawyer, “Does the plaintiff wish to make a statement?” Our lawyer replied, “The plaintiff wishes to make a statement.” The judge said, “Will the plaintiff please make a short statement.” I stood up and read the most important parts of the statement. Following this statement on behalf of the plaintiff, the judge asked the defendant, “Does the defendant wish to make a statement?” The defendant replied, “We have already provided our response in the form of a letter. There is no need for us to make to a statement at this time.”

The judge announced that today’s court session was now adjourned, and verified the date for the next court session at 10:30 a.m. on December 14, 2009, and the location as the same, Courtroom 610. The judge asked my lawyer, “Can you provided a copy of the defendant’s statement from today to the court? If you can, then the secretary won’t record the oral statement you just made.” Our lawyer said, “We can provide copies of the statement,” and handed a copy of my statement to both the judge and the defendant. About a half hour after it had begun, the first court hearing concluded.

Afterward, we were once again interviewed by reporters from Tokyo Shimbun and Asiaweek. Although the defendant didn’t read their response to the lawsuit in court, the journalists, who knew its contents, were very interested in this document. The response from the defendant did not deny the illegality of defendant’s actions, but assumed that the Japanese court did not have jurisdiction over this matter. Their reasoning was as follows:

  1. The defendant is based in China;
  2. They do not have a main place of business in Japan;
  3. The passenger’s ticket was to China;
  4. The passenger did not purchase his tickets directly from an agent in the employ of the defendant, but instead from a travel agent.

This soliloquy of a response, full of aggressive language, was a direct challenge to the Japanese court from the defendant. In China, the court would probably play along. The defendant would definitely win with the support of the local government.

Is an office registered to handle legal matters in Japan not a main place of business? The largest airline in China suddenly admits that it doesn’t have a main place of business in the massive Japanese market, and it doesn’t have a mechanism to accept legal responsibility—well, that’s big news. It means that for passengers flying to China, even if they are Japanese citizens, if they want to buy Air China tickets, then they must give up Japanese legal protections. The majority of Japanese passengers buy their tickets through travel agents. If the airlines suddenly start making a fuss and not admitting fault, how many travel agents will still be willing to sell tickets on their behalf? Will Japanese passengers still be willing to take this airline in the future?

I don’t know who helped Air China come up with this idea. It’s not enough to him them once, you have to beat them to death.The Japanese court is probably getting confused: if they decide the case in Air China’s favor, then no Japanese passenger will be willing to buy a ticket from them ever again. Passengers from other countries probably won’t be willing to take Air China anymore, either.

If there is mistake that must be corrected, then you can make big problem into a small a problem by fixing the mistake; if you don’t fix the mistake, then you will end up being stuck with an even bigger mistake. This is true for people, businesses, and even governments. Air China knows that it made a mistake but won’t fix it, instead relying on the power of despots. They think that Japan is China, but my Japanese lawyer will continue to pursue his lawsuit. Tomorrow I’m going to keep trying to return home, so I hope that the Chinese officials can recognize their mistake and fix it instead of wasting manpower and resources by choosing to welcome me with a police escort. They should just let me go back undisturbed, like a normal citizen.

November 2, 2009

Appendix II: Feng Zhenghu’s Court Statement (Chinese Translation)

Honorable Judge,

I hereby confirm the veracity of my prior suit and all related materials. The following is my court statement.

Part 1. Lawsuit Requests

  1. The defendant will compensate the plaintiff ¥2,141,040 [$23,647] in damages.
  2. The cost of the lawsuit will be assumed by the defendant.

Part II. Facts and Grounds

I am a Chinese citizen currently in Japan.

On March 1, 2009 I legally departed the Shanghai Pudong International Airport to come to Japan for a brief period of recuperation. When I took a China Airlines return flight on June 7, however, police officers from Chinese Immigration and Border Patrol at Pudong prevented me from entering the country. There was no reason for them to refuse my entry, and it had no basis in the law. It was simply a verbal command given by higher leadership.

Of course I resisted, for the sake of safeguarding the right of return of all Chinese citizens. I took international flights on June 7, June 17, June 24, July 2, July 9, July 16, and July 31 for a total of seven additional attempts to break through the barriers that had been erected against me. For my seventh attempt, I took All Nippon Airlines back to Pudong.

During one of the seven attempts, Air China acted on orders from Shanghai authorities and illegally refused to allow me to board and thereby return to China.

My second attempt took place June 17. Because Air China refused to let me board, I was unable to go home. That morning I had arrived on time at Narita International Airport, with the intent to board Air China Flight CA158 to return to China. At 8:10 a.m., I completed the required check-in procedures, paid to check one piece of luggage, and received my boarding pass. I verified that my seat number was 12L. I then made my way through Japanese immigration control without incident. My passport was stamped with the official Japanese exit stamp (Immigration officer #1455). Just as I was preparing to board, the branch manager for Air China at Narita International Airport refused to let me board the plane, thereby making it impossible for me to return to China. Thereafter I was detained in the Narita departures hall.

Shanghai authorities have misused the power of the state. Prohibiting Chinese citizens from returning to China is illegal. My dispute with the Shanghai authorities is a domestic Chinese problem. Every week I boarded a plane back home, because even if I can’t enter the country, I can spend the night in Pudong, where I can communicate with Shanghai officials directly. My dispute with the Shanghai authorities will ultimately be resolved by the Chinese central government and courts.

As a company in the business of transportation, the airline should remain neutral and fulfill its business obligations to carry passengers. When I got on the plane I had a plane ticket, a passport, and all other such documents required by the law. Besides, I had already paid for my ticket, meaning that I had entered into a service contract with the airline. Given this, the airline had no choice but to fulfil their business obligation and allow me to fly back to China. If the Shanghai authorities then refused to let me enter the country, then I could voluntarily return to Japan. This has nothing to do with the business responsibilities of the airline, however.

On June 15, 2009, when I bought tickets for Air China flight number CA158, I entered into a contract with the defendant, Air China Ltd., to fly me from Narita International Airport in Tokyo to Pudong International Airport in Shanghai. However, on June 17, 2009, the defendant ignored the terms of our business contract, and unilaterally broke the contract, refusing to accept a legal passenger. The defendant’s behavior was not only illegal, it violated even the most basic obligations of the business contract.

The behavior of the defendant has not only caused me financial harm, but also enormous emotional trauma. For the sake personal profit, the defendant has overturned the status quo and finds itself adrift in a fog of avarice. In colluding with the high and powerful of Shanghai, they have persecuted a Chinese citizen. The defendant has hereby demonstrated that even here, in the democratic nation of Japan, it is unwilling to respect the rights of passengers, its contractual obligations, and business ethics, not to mention Chinese and Japanese law.

The defendant has not only hurt me personally, it has also hurt the Japanese legal system and the honor of the nation. Acting only on verbal orders from the Shanghai police conveyed via telephone, and without any written documents, it can force a Chinese citizen to be detained in Japan. What does this mean, then? It means that Shanghai officials and the airline have forgotten that Japan is a sovereign nation. Instead, they seem to think that Japan is a district of Shanghai, casually putting a Chinese citizen into forced detention in Japan.

It is my hope that the Japanese court will decide in the favor of justice to protect my basic human rights, thereby also protecting Japanese law and the honor of the nation.

Plaintiff: Feng Zhenghu
November 2, 2009
Tokyo District Court, Courtroom 610

[Chinese]

Translation by Nick.