Resilient China


Defamation Litigation (1993-2013) 

Can the media win?

Freedom of speech is often at stake in defamation litigation. In modern democracies, the rhetorical label “chilling effect” has been used by both legal scholars and journalists to address the impact of court decisions on the media. How to strike a balance between individuals’ reputations and the rights of freedom of speech is more complicated in the authoritarian regimes that tend to repress freedom of speech and control the media through defamation litigation. Thus, this study analyzed 524 defamation cases suing news organizations in China from 1993 to 2013, and systematically investigated how the litigants’ capacity, political influence and the medium affect the media's success possibilities in courts Empirical findings offered more nuanced understanding of the mechanisms of “chilling effects” in China. For most politically insensitive defamation disputes, the role of the courts is more administrative than it is political; the courts administer those conflicts emerging from the new information era and maintain the regime’s legitimacy. These functions are fulfilled when dissenting opinions are repressed both in and outside the courts. In this sense, the handling of defamation cases in courts thus contributes to the resilience of the Chinese regime (He & Lin, 2017). (Top Faculty Paper Award)


How much does your reputation worth?

Different from character that is what a person really is, reputation is what he seems to be. Modern liberalism has persuaded us that character is a private matter, but as the individual’s projection of self in a society, reputation’s very nature is social: it indicates a relation between persons in a given society. Thus, the defamation tort needs to articulate an individual’s reputation within the context of his/her community. Since the media inevitably plays a significant role in constructing communities, the defamation litigation where individuals suing media serves as a good window to investigate the constructed nature of individual reputation. Combining our interviews with legal professionals with statistical analysis on 403 litigations where individuals suing news organizations between 1988 and 2013, this project aims to scrutinize the pricing mechanism of individual reputation and discusses the impacts of such remedies on the social relations embedded in individual reputation (GRF project #11672616).