Saturday, December 15, 2007

Xi'an Fanyi: The Lawsuit

Fang Zhouzi's investigation of the Xi'an Fanyi's fraudulent claim of being a Top 10 university in China was first picked up by a reporter named Tang Yong (唐勇). Mr. Tang worked for the Huanqiu (环球时报), a subsidiary of the official newspaper People's Daily (人民日报). He also happened to be at Los Angles at the time. So he got a copy of the October 4, 2004 edition of Los Angles Times and looked over the entire content. Based on that he reported that there was no news about any ranking of China's universities in that paper. Obviously, it had never occurred to him that he needed to check all the advertisements in the paper as well. Similarly, he searched and could not find the "USA Fifty State Higher Education Union" in any database or on Google.

On November 8, 2004, Tang Yong reported his findings on Huanqiu. (Subsequently, Fang Zhouzi accused Tang Yong for plagiarism by using Fang's contents without citation.)

In early December, even the top level authority became aware of this issue. In a news conference, the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Education (MOE), Wang Xuming (王旭明), said specifically:
... As we are aware, the report on Los Angles Times was a paid advertisement. The so-called "USA Fifty State Higher Education Union" does not exist. There was never such an organization. The paper had informed concerned people in China (中方有关人士) that the piece was a paid advertisement, not a news report. If anyone engages distorted propaganda using the Los Angles Times, the Paper will seek legal actions against them.
It was not clear whether the MOE Spokesperson based his information on Fang Zhouzi and Tang Yong's reports or had independent sources of their own.

The "official" pronouncement not withstanding, Xi'an Fanyi's President Ding Zuyi sued Tang Yong and a local paper which carried his report in January, 2005. In May, the Chang'an District Court in Xi'an decided that Tang Yong had written his report without learning all the facts and therefore was guilty of libel and defamation. He and his paper were ordered to apologize.

At the same time, Fang Zhouzi, New Thread, and other media received letters from Xi'an Fanyi's lawyers to remove related contents and apologize. In defiance, Fang Zhouzi reiterated the Xi'an Fanyi fraud case in a column published in Beijing Science and Technology (BST) on July 27, 2005. In the article, he cited the MOE Spokesperson that the ranking news and its sponsoring institution are "non-existent" (子虚乌有).

On August 30, 2005, Ding Zuyi and Xi'an Fanyi filed a lawsuit against Fang Zhouzi and BST for defamation. More than a year later, on November 10, 2006, the case was heard in the Chang'an District Court.

The Court apparently ignored Fang Zhouzi's plea that the passage in his article was a direct quote from the MOE Spokesperson and not his own and proceeded the case against Fang. The defendants provided copies of the Los Angles Times, which clearly showed that the "news" in question was a paid advertisement, as well as results from State of California registry showing the registration date of the so-called "USA Fifty State Higher Education Union" and its current defunct status. The court ruled that these evidences inadmissible since they haven't been properly notarized by the Chinese Consulate in the US.

Without any other evidences, however, on November 14, the Court declared that it had verified that on October 4, 2004, Los Angles Times had published a news article on the ranking of "most respected" universities in China. That the defendants did not have sufficient evidence to prove the report was a paid advertisement. Nor could the defendants prove the "non-existence" of the "USA Fifty State Higher Education Union". Therefore the defendants had based their criticisms of Xi'an Fanyi on falsehoods and were guilty of defamation.

The Court decreed that
  1. Within 10 days, Fang and BST must publish an open apology to Xi'an Fanyi, reviewed by the Court
  2. Within 10 days, Fang and BST must pay Xi'an Fanyi 150,000RMB ($18,750) for economical damage
  3. Within 10 days, Fang and BST must pay Ding Zuyi 10,000RMB ($1,250) for psychological damage
Fang Zhouzi and BST appealed. In April, 2007, Xi'an Intermediate People's Court delivered the final verdict and rejected the appeal.

On October 22, BST published an open apology to Xi'an Fanyi and Ding Zuyi, fulfilling it's part of the court obligation. It was not clear if the paper had paid for the damage fine. Fang Zhouzi, however, continued to choose defiance. He is appealing to the Highest People's Court of the nation.

1 comment:

Yush said...

I want to give more detailed explanation on Chinese idiom 子虚乌有. In any Chinese dictionary, 子虚乌有 means false, untrue or non-existent (虚假的、不真实的或是不存在的). For example, a medicine claimed to cure cancers and AIDS is 子虚乌有, but the medicine itself might exist, nothing more but made of starch and sugar. Therefore, 子虚乌有 is the most appropriate phrase to describe the so-called "USA Fifty State Higher Education Union".

Also note that the Union's name that appears on the "Most Respected" advertisement and certificates is "FIFTY STATE" or "FIFTY SATE" instead of "FIFTYSTATE". The latter does exist on the registry of California as a company, whose one and the only business that has been done is to rank Ding Zuyi and Xi'an Fanyi the "Most Respected".

It is Xi'an court (or, more precisely, Ding's court ) who deliberately and partially treated 子虚乌有 as the synonym of non-existent (不存在). The court ruled that since the defendants submitted the evidence of the Union being incorporated on May 26, 2004, it proves the existence of the Organization (该机构存在的事实有两被告的答辩和举证内容所印证).

More about 子虚乌有

Evidence provided by Fang Zhouzi from Secretary of State of the State of California

False evidence provided by Xi'an Fanyi

A report from Chinanews Service on how the false evidence forged