Recent Defamation Cases and Abuse of Local Power

In a number of recent cases, local officials have brought defamation or libel charges against citizens who criticized them. In discussing these cases on their blogs and in their writing, Chinese journalists and academics have brought up broader issues of freedom of information and local power. China Media Project translates a blog post by People’s University Professor Zhang Ming about the recent cases: After reading about Henan’s Wang Shuai (王帅) case and Inner Mongolia’s Wu Baoquan (吴保全) case (both were accused of crimes after criticizing the government), my initial response was that these were classic cases of wenziyu (文字狱), [or being jailed for one’s words]. But when I thought more carefully about it, these cases are a bit different from ancient cases of wenziyu [in China]. Ancient cases of wenziyu were generally initiated on the behalf of rulers at the highest level [such as the emperor], and the goal was to strive for uniformity of thought and opinion. Clearly, those who pursued and persecuted Wang Shuai and Wu Baoquan did not have such lofty priorities. What they wanted, first and foremost, was to ensure that information did not leak out, and secondly, that the dignity of the [local] ruler was preserved . . . We have every indication that this first priority was the most pressing of all. We must admit that some of our local officials have made progress, and if the people, having had a bit too much to drink, criticize those who govern them, most will be spared revenge so long as they don’t publicly shake a finger at a leader’s nose. And there are even those [leaders] who might hear [the insults] but pretend not to. But when [local officials] mobilize police strength to conduct a manhunt for Wang Shuai over vast distances, when they direct ...
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