Chinese rage comic firm first to be sued for defamation under ‘heroes and martyrs’ law

Online platform operator ordered to pay US$14,500 in compensation to family of civil war general defamed in spoof film

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 September, 2018, 11:24pm

The company behind the popular Chinese “rage comics” that were censored earlier this year for defaming a civil war general has been ordered to pay his relatives 100,000 yuan (US$14,500) in compensation.

Ye Ting fought for the Communists in the war and was jailed for five years after being captured by the opposition Nationalists. Soon after his release in 1946 he was killed in a plane crash.

Seven of Ye’s relatives filed a civil lawsuit for defamation against Xian Momo Information Technology in May, soon after it had been ordered to shut down Baozou Manhua, its online platform for rage comics which at the time was the biggest in the country.

The ban, which followed the enactment of China’s new Heroes and Martyrs Protection Law on May 1, was imposed because a video shown on the website used a poem written by Ye while he was incarcerated as the basis for a spoof of contemporary advertising for abortions.

The film, which had originally been shown in 2014, also mocked Dong Cunrui, a People’s Liberation Army soldier who died in a suicide mission to blow up an enemy bunker during the civil war, although that element of the clip was unrelated to the defamation suit.

Xian Yanta District People’s Court in northwest China’s Shaanxi province ruled on Friday that the video had damaged Ye’s reputation and caused a “negative influence” on society, People’s Daily reported the same day.

It said the monetary award was intended as “spiritual consolation” for Ye’s family.

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Ryan Mitchell, a law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong said the ruling was evidence of an “increasingly clear red line” people needed to adhere to when discussing historical topics.

“The party in recent years has taken a firm ideological stance against ‘historical nihilism’, which can encompass not only criticising its history but also making fun of it,” he said.

“With the law against the defamation of revolutionary martyrs, and the draft Civil Code, such cases are likely to continue and possibly become more common.”

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Under the Heroes and Martyrs Protection Law it is illegal to insult or defame Communist war heroes and martyrs, whose stories are commonly taught in schools as part of a patriotic national curriculum.

While Xian Momo is the first company to be successfully sued under the new legislation, several internet users have been punished for making fun of such historical figures as well as victims of the Nanking massacre.

China’s leaders have been tightening their grip on online content. Earlier this year the popular joke-sharing app Neihan Duanzi was shut down by censors for its use of “vulgar content”, while several platforms that focus on viral and entertainment news, like Jinri Toutiao, have been ordered to clean up their acts.