A Proper Use of Obscenities

Here is my translation of the commentary:-

"A Mr. Chen from Shenzhen initiated a lawsuit against a telecoms enterprise because of disputes arising from the latter’s service. He brought a total of over 30 claims against the firm and when he lost the court case, he mailed an appeal to the court house. Under the heading 'Fact and Reason' on the appeal document he only wrote the word 'f---' (操). As he refused to repent for his misconduct, he was sentenced to 15 days in detention.

The presiding judge’s reason for passing the sentence on Mr. Chen was that he used obscene language to insult judicial workers. But if the judge cares to surf the internet, he will find that he himself is getting more insults because of the sentence. Netizens preponderantly lend their support to the obscene appeal and think that the judgment is unfair. The term 'contempt of court' is not strange to netizens. But why are they supporting such a foul word? Of course, almost everyone would think it is not right to revile others.

From Mr. Chen’s choice to engage in a lawsuit, it is clear that he had not intended at the outset to insult the judge. At least he did not opt for the petition route, nor did he stage a silent protest or abstain from food in protest. Rather, he chose to use the legal process to resolve his problem. In the eyes of some netizens, this choice is a very stupid one. It has been over a decade since the ruling party first proposed to 'govern by rule of law'. So this incident should give people some food for thought. As a media worker, I know very well that a great part of my work over the last decade has been in the promotion of common law. That is why I feel sad for both myself and my co-workers.

I once pointed out that in the last decade or so, the Chinese media has accomplished two things: immersing financial reporters in market economy general knowledge and immersing social reporters in the knowledge of law. In the old days, social news reporting was based on the broad principles of ethics and conscience. Then under the influence of some legal experts, the media began to perceive the importance of rule of law. In 1997, 'governance by rule of law' was written into the ruling party’s fifteen reports. In 1999, this principle was even included in the Constitution Amendment Bill. It was as though the media obtained a carte blanche on a future direction they had always subscribed to. Media workers began to diligently utilize the concept of rule of law to dig up news stories and edit and interpret news reports. Second only to economists, legal experts became the favorite interview targets of the media.

The whole society has adopted the rule of law as the enlightened way forward. Not only are government officials required to administer according to law, but businessmen are also required to conduct business according to law and workers are required to go to the fields according to law. Even petitioners who protest outside the judicial system also rely on the legal protection of their rights as their strategy. According to scholars like Li Lianjiang (李連江) and Yu Jianrong (于建嶸), before the mid-1990s, grassroot level people used to adopt civil disobedience as their weapon in the struggle against injustice. Subsequently that turned into 'protesting based on rule of law', relying on the nation’s laws and Central Government policies, as a means to oppose some low-level governments’ illegal conduct. Then it evolved into 'using the law as a basis for struggle', while consistently adhering to the concept of law and drawing on faith in the rationale of law, in order to establish the legal benefits and civil rights of the masses.

These efforts can be interpreted as the process of ridding the social structure of crass and emotional contents and of pursuing a civilized and regulated system of verbal and written expression. Yet, during the last decade while the media and the masses have become committed to the rule of law, the public officials’ power which should have above all else been subjected to the rule of law, has not been effectively checked and balanced. In some aspects, that power has been even more randomly endowed and has been more crudely exercised. A friend has complained: 'Before they put out the slogan of 'governance by rule of law', few officials were seen daring to enter other people’ houses and to start demolishing them. Now some officials can just improvise some kind of document and they can blatantly carry out the demolition work.' Such a situation has brought disillusionment about the legal system to many people. Some even feel that they have been fooled by the media’s promotion tactics and they think that the rulers are still relying on the concept of 'rule by men' (人治) of thousands of years ago. With the rise of the internet, people have been using that medium platform to harshly ridicule and rebel against such a system.

If the special interactive feature of the internet has given it a unique format of verbal and written expression, then the Chinese internet can be said to have embodied the 'weak men’s weapon'. Netizens have been empowered by the internet to carry out their struggles by way of posting derisive and rebellious remarks. This has given rise to a series of 'mischievous incidents'. From 'going out to buy soy sauce' (打醬油), to 'doing push-ups' (俯臥撐), to 'eluding the cat' (躲貓貓), netizens have been using mischievous tactics to replace 'seeking protection of rights according to law'. Since the end of last year, the 'ten extinct beasts' (十大神獸) have become red hot in cyberspace. Obscenities have become a common internet phenomenon and have gained widespread support. This is a reflection of an outburst of resentment and grievances.

Faced with such a public opinion ecosystem, I feel rather embarrassed. Over a decade ago, I supported a serious and proper style of writing at the media firm where I used to work. I purposely avoided the more carefree, humorous and satirical kind of writing style in my commentaries and I tried very hard to learn the balanced and calm style. Who would know that even before I had time to catch up with the learning, the internet would already be filled with all kinds of vituperative and taunting writings?

The 'f---' appeal in Shenzhen has blended a derisive and aggrieved emotion with a proper and serious legal document and has produced a stunningly dramatic effect .”