Ex-journalist Luo Changping has been sentenced to seven months in prison for a Weibo post that questioned the wisdom of Chinese military strategy during the Korean War and mocked troops that froze to death. Luo was detained in October 2021 on charges of slandering martyrs, which was made a crime by the 2018 “Heroes and Martyrs Protection Act”. Luo will also “voluntarily” donate 80,000 yuan to the Memorial of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea in Dandong, and will write public apologies to be published on Sina.com and in the Party newspapers Legal Daily and People’s Liberation Army Daily. State media coverage of his sentence offers insight into how China polices the internet and conducts its struggle against “historical nihilism.”
People’s Court Daily, a newspaper controlled by the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing, reported on the sequence of events that led to Luo’s arrest. On October 6, Luo watched the film “The Battle at Lake Changjin” and related documentaries on his phone at home in Hainan. At 9:38 a.m. he took to Weibo, where he wrote: “Half a century later, our countrymen rarely reflect on the justification for the war, much as those soldiers in ‘Sand Sculpture [idiot] Company’ never doubted the ‘wise decisions’ of their higher-ups.” Exactly 30 minutes later, in response to user complaints, Weibo censored the original post, which was read 22,397 times. Despite the censorship, screenshots of Luo’s comment continued to circulate on the platform. He deleted the post at 6:20 a.m. the following morning. That afternoon, he received a call from the local police station ordering him to post an apology to his WeChat Moments, and he promptly complied. A short while later, Luo arrived at the police station (the article does not say whether he was brought there by police or went of his own volition), where he purportedly confessed to his “crimes.”
The court held that Luo was a “repeat offender.” It found that since 2009, when Luo first registered his Weibo account, he had sent nine posts mocking heroes and martyrs, and that these posts were collectively read 17,613,621 times, commented on 19,152 times, and forwarded 32,015 times. The court also noted that during that period, Luo’s Weibo account had been sanctioned or punished 30 times by platform administrators.
A commentary published in People’s Court Daily alongside the article describing Luo’s sentencing argued that the Party must be on guard against historical nihilism: “In practice, some people treat history as ‘a little girl to dress up as they please’ by debasing Party history, vulgarizing it for entertainment, and in some cases, even engaging in criminal disparagement and defamation of revolutionary martyrs and model heroes.” The commentary then connected Luo’s crimes to a host of other incidents of historical nihilism within the last decade, including a 2015 incident in which a Hong Kong-based beverage company joked that Korean War martyr Qiu Shaoyun, who burned to death, was “barbecued”; online posts from 2017 that accused martyr Fang Zhimin (whose essay “Lovely China” earned him Mao’s admiration) of complicity in the 1934 kidnap and murder of American missionary couple John and Betty Stam; and a 2021 Weibo post by former investigative journalist Qiu Ziming that cast doubt on the true number of casualties from Sino-Indian border clashes the previous summer. The commentary also cited incidents of defamation of the heroes of Wulang Mountain, Dong Cunrui, and Liu Hulan. and warned that “new threads” of historical nihilism would continue to crop up.
The campaign against historical nihilism appears to be in full swing. Several of China’s major social media companies recently announced renewed efforts to encourage users to report others for potentially historically nihilist content. In an article detailing Xi Jinping’s efforts to “clean up” the internet, published in the latest edition of the Cyberspace Administration of China’s relaunched magazine, the CAC wrote that the campaigns are designed to turn “opposing historical nihilism into a reflexive behavior for netizens.”
Efforts to shape Chinese citizens’ perceptions of history are taking place offline, as well. “The Battle at Lake Changjin,” the film Luo criticized, was a nationalist war flick depicting the heroism of China’s “volunteer” army in Korea. It was also China’s largest-ever box-office hit. In one Zhengzhou high school, teachers had students eat frozen potatoes to recreate the hardships faced by the soldiers. The museum to which Luo Changping will donate, the Memorial of the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea, is also rife with symbolism. A 2020 censorship directive mandated that coverage of memorial ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the Korean conflict not include information from KCNA, North Korea’s state broadcaster. The Economist’s Chaguan column examined how the museum’s status has fluctuated with changes in the political tides:
The museum has reflected political trends since it first opened in 1958. Back then, its displays followed North Korea’s line that the war began with a surprise attack by South Korea—a reversal of the historical truth. Today, in 2020, the museum in Dandong says coyly that “On June 25th 1950 the Korean civil war broke out,” without assigning blame. The memorial closed in 1966 when the commander of Chinese forces in Korea, Peng Dehuai, purged for questioning Mao and later rehabilitated, came under renewed attack. It did not reopen until 1993, a year after China normalized relations with South Korea—a rapprochement that enraged the North and made it urgent for China to assert its version of history. The hall closed again in 2014, ostensibly for repairs, amid Chinese anger at missile tests and nuclear-weapons research by North Korea. [Source]