Hong Ying Libel Case


The book the Chinese don’t want you to read.

She was known only as ‘K’ in the letters that he wrote home to his mother, but the true identity of Julian Bell’s Chinese lover continues to spark controversy to this day. Already dubbed the Chinese Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Hong Ying’s imaginary account of the real-life love affair in the 1930s between Julian Bell, son of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf’s nephew, and Ling Shuhua, one of China’s most highly regarded short-story writers, is currently the focus of intense legal debate. On 3 December 2002, Hong Ying learnt that the court in Manchuria had declared her guilty of the crime of 'defaming the dead'. On 19 December, she travels back to China to lodge an appeal. However, unless the press in the West intervene, it is unlikely she will win, and she will be faced with fines of over 124,000 yuan, and have to publish apologies in the Chinese press, at her own expense. K: The Art of Love, is now a banned book. It joins Shang Hai Baby, which is also banned, but Hong Ying also has to pay compensation to the plaintiff, which is a first in Chinese legal history for a crime committed only in the pages of a book.

Incredibly, both Hong Ying and Chen Xiaoying, the plaintiff, live in London, where you cannot by law libel the dead. The damages Chen Xiaoying receives from Hong Ying, will in all probability be brought back to London. Denouncing the book as ‘unbearably pornographic’, Chen Xiaoying has brought a lawsuit against Hong Ying and the two Chinese publications that have carried extracts of the novel for causing ‘spiritual damage’. ‘It is very obscene,’ she told the UK’s Observer at the start of the trial in June 2002. ‘There is no law in England to protect ancestors. But in China the dead cannot be slandered.’ This startling case highlights the fluid boundary between biography, artistic license and China’s totalitarian legal system.

‘If the court bans K from being published,’ Hong Ying has announced, ‘it would be a huge step backwards for modern Chinese writing. It would mean a return to a chaotic, conservative and totalitarian state.’

020 8646 5686 (Hong Ying’s home in Morden) e-mail: hyh@onetel.net.uk
020 7898 4214 (Henry Zhao’s office at SOAS) e-mail: yz@soas.ac.uk
If you wish to speak to the plaintiff, Chen Xiaoying, her telephone number in London is 020 7289 4045

Why I think this is a politicized "Civil Law Case"
--- Further explanation by Hong Ying about the ban on her novel K

1. The plaintiff Chen Xiaoying, also known as Mrs Ying Chinnery, claims on the complaint that she is "Head of the International Department of the Britain-China Friendship Association" (Ying-Zhong Youhao Xiehui, Guojibu Buzhang). She sued me in that political VIP capacity. I have asked around and searched repeated all internet database, without being able to locate this "Association". There was one set up by the British Communist Party in the 1940s-50s, but long defunct. But the way she brought the case to court is politicising it in the very beginning. The title is political cheating.

2. My questioning about her age looks like a trifle. In fact it is not. In the same bunch of "evidence" she presented to the court, there is 10 years age gap. One of the reasons Beijing court rejected the case was because she failed to produce any birth identification paper. She should have produced her British Passport. But she produced in Manchurian court a paper endorsed by the Chinese Embassy in London instead. For what purpose she refused to show her passport is beyond my concern here. But the way the Embassy helped her out of the strange dilemma was a political favour, since she has been a "faithful friend to the Chinese people" for many decades.

3. The clause itself in Chinese Civil Law is a political one. Originally it was a simple libel case of "encroaching the right to reputation". In 1993, the Chinese Supreme Court published an "explanation", which stipulates that direct blood kinsfolk three generations above and below the person concerned if he is dead, could bring to the court a case of "encroaching the dead person’s right to the reputation" (sizhe mingyu quan). That means, a grandson or grand-daughter (i.e., about a century after the person’s death) could make such a case. Everybody in China understands that it is designed to protect the reputation of the leading figures of the Chinese Revolution.

4. But starting from the case of the ban on the novel, the protection cover seems to extend to well-known figures in the KMT Counter-Revolution camp, because of the need of the United Front. For many years the living KMT veterans have received enthusiastic welcome (since they are now in opposition in Taiwan). Now the signal is sent that their reputation will be protected after their death. This is exactly the reason why the plaintiff brought in the outrageous charge that my novel hints on her father being "impotent", and the verdict uses the same phrase. Chen Xiying, the plaintiff’s father, was a loyal KMT cultural official and was the KMT representative to UNESCO since 1947 and ever after. In 1967, when the position of KMT Government in the UN was handed over to the People’s Republic, the KMT representatives in all UN institutions withdrew. But Chen Xiying stayed in his office for three days, and was dragged out finally by French police. And he died soon after. He was indeed emotionally loyal KMT. Yet Chen Xiaoying is unable to bring the case in Taiwan. She knew perfectly well that Chen Xiying is more protected in Mainland China because of this kind of history. In a nutshell, this is the need of the United Front. At first I thought that it was ridiculous to drag her father in and under "impotence", because the few places mentioning the character that she claims to be her father are actually quite positive, and there was nothing even close to it. But soon I realized that this is a well-calculated political action.

5. The definition of "encroachment of reputation" is "to lower the esteem generally held in society". What could be the Chinese society’s esteem of her father? Chen Xiying’s name was known in history not because his only work all his life --- a thin book of essays published in 1925, but because Lu Xun’s severe criticism of him on political issues of the time. So this is what he is remembered with, and his "social esteem". I can only call it "re-politicising in the reverse direction". I am unwilling to drag the plaintiff’s father in, but it was she who brought the charge and indeed has been accepted.