Fake news with Chinese characteristics

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[In response to recent media requests, I have drafted the following brief blog post]

Last week, Chinese and international media were filled with coverage of horrific allegations of abuse at a Beijing area kindergarten. There was video of children being fed medicine, talk of mysterious injections, and indications of large scale sexual abuse. Yesterday, the police gave a preliminary report [full translation] saying that most of the allegations had been found false and that those who had spread them were either repenting or in custody, including a news anchor.

Regardless of what actually happened, the kindergarten scandal is revealing that the government is right about one thing – Despite a monopoly on information, Chinese society is facing a credibility crisis. The public is ready to believe that their preschool teachers are harming their children, that parents are faking child abuse, and that the police are willing to lie just to cover up an unpleasant story and maintain stability.

With contradictory information flying in all directions, nobody knows who to trust. Despite draconian controls on speech and rumor spreading, China seems no less mired in the ‘post-truth era’. China has been taking increasingly strong measures to address false information online for some time, but censorship and even punishment of rumormongers, seems to heighten suspicion rather than reduce it.

China has also been working to develop a social credit system, which will enlist big data and technology to help people quantify the reputation of businesses and individuals they connect with- but will anyone put faith in that system over any other official statement? Nearly ubiquitous surveillance equipment seems to offer more objective evidence of suspected misconduct, but in this case, the school’s internal security footage was damaged.

The charges that have come out of the kindergarten case so far are as follows:

  1. Liu X, a 22 year old female teacher has been accused of pricking students with sewing needles when they wouldn’t nap. She is being held on suspicion of criminally abusing persons under her care.

This refers to article 260-1 of the PRC Criminal Law, and is punishable by up to three years imprisonment. If the school itself is found to have committed the offense, the branch managers may also be liable, along with Liu, but this does not seem to be the case. There are of course other charges which could apply if further allegations are substantiated, and I will update as needed.

 

  1. A different woman named Liu X (no apparent relation) has been alleged to have invented stories of child abuse, and been taken into administrative detention for concocting facts to disrupt public order. Administrative detention means that the offense did not reach the level of a crime, and is in accordance with the Public Security Administrative Punishments Law with penalties imposed directly by police, rather than by a court. Here it is Article 25 of the law that is invoked, with maximum detention of 10 days and fines of up to 500 rmb.

 

  1. Li XX, was also found to have spread such rumors, but responded well to ‘criticism and education’ by police and has publicly apologized through social media. It does not appear she will face further punishment.

 

  1. While the investigation is ongoing, punishments have not been announced for either a kindergarten parent who uploaded video showing their child take medicine and described being fed it at school; nor for the reporter who aired the video without verifying it at. Another parent has conceded that they fabricated stories about the kindergarten’s male staff conducting naked physicals of female students, with no punishment announced.
About Jeremy Daum 108 Articles
Jeremy Daum is a Senior Fellow of the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center, based in Beijing, with over a decade of experience working in China on collaborative legal reform projects. His principal research focus is criminal procedure law, with a particular emphasis on protections of vulnerable populations such as juveniles and the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, and is also an authority on China’s ‘Social Credit System’. Jeremy has spoken about these issues at universities throughout China and in the U.S.; and has co-authored a book on U.S. Capital Punishment Jurisprudence for Chinese readers. He is also the founder and contributing editor of the collaborative translation and commentary site Chinalawtranslate.com, dedicated to improving mutual understanding between legal professionals in China and abroad. He translates, writes, edits, does web-design, graphic design, billing, tech support, and social media outreach for China Law Translate.

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