Com­plainer’s Calamity

COR­PO­RATE WHISTLE­BLOWER'S AR­REST HIGH­LIGHTS HIS­TORY OF BUSI­NESS ABUS­ING LO­CAL LAWS TO PER­SE­CUTE EN­E­MIES

The World of Chinese - - Editor’s Letter - – HATTY LIU

A “fake medicine” scan­dal has ig­nited a na­tion­wide furor over po­lice pro­ce­dure, with no less than China’s of­fi­cial Xin­hua News Agency call­ing for pub­lic se­cu­rity bu­reaus (PSB) to “ex­er­cise power dou­bly pru­dently” fol­low­ing the three­month de­ten­tion of a cor­po­rate whistle­blower. The dis­pute—be­tween Guang­dong anes­thetist Tan Qin­dong and the man­u­fac­tur­ers of Hong­mao Medic­i­nal Liquor— be­gan in De­cem­ber 2017. Dr. Tan pub­lished a blog call­ing the over-the-counter tonic—which has al­ready been cited for false ad­ver­tis­ing in 25 prov­inces—use­less “poi­son.” PSB of­fi­cers from Hong­mao’s home county of Liangcheng, In­ner Mon­go­lia, seized Dr. Tan in Guangzhou on Jan­uary 12 for the crime of “im­pair­ing [Hong­mao’s] com­mer­cial rep­u­ta­tion.”

Le­gal ex­perts around China have since pointed out that the crime in ques­tion, out­lined in Ar­ti­cle 221 of the PRC’S Crim­i­nal Law, typ­i­cally per­tains to false­hoods al­leged by a com­peti­tor that dam­age a busi­ness’s rep­u­ta­tion. It is up to the com­pany to prove that the dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion is both false and that it led di­rectly to a com­mer­cial loss—and the po­lice ex­ist to make ar­rests on mat­ters of pub­lic se­cu­rity, rather than civil dis­putes. Yet the out­come of Tan’s case is not un­ex­pected

in a coun­try when well-con­nected com­pa­nies and of­fi­cials have been known to mis­use pub­lic re­sources.

De­scribed broadly in me­dia as a “abuse of pub­lic power”—a cat­e­gory which en­com­passes ac­tions from nepo­tism to mis­use of pub­lic ve­hi­cles—dr. Tan’s case has nu­mer­ous pre­vi­ous par­al­lels, per­haps most ab­surdly an in­ci­dent in Au­gust 2017, when a man called Zhang was ar­rested for com­plain­ing about the qual­ity and price of food at a He­bei hospi­tal. In 2010, a Ningxia res­i­dent was ar­rested, fol­low­ing an­other cross-coun­try man­hunt, for al­leg­ing on­line that a class­mate—who hap­pened to be the son of two county of­fi­cials—had cheated on his civil ser­vice ex­ams. In both cases, the “rep­u­ta­tion dam­age” charges were later dropped by po­lice.

The PSB have dealt out far more se­vere con­se­quences, though, when more than just “cor­po­rate rep­u­ta­tion” was on the line: In 2006, a univer­sity stu­dent named Huang Jing was de­tained for 10 months by Bei­jing’s Haid­ian po­lice for “black­mail and ex­tor­tion” af­ter al­legedly de­mand­ing too much com­pen­sa­tion for her de­fec­tive lap­top from com­puter man­u­fac­turer Asus—huang had sought five mil­lion USD. In the af­ter­math of the 2008 tainted milk-pow­der scan­dal, two of the af­fected par­ents, Zhao Lian­hai and Guo Tao, were ar­rested for “provo­ca­tion” and “black­mail” re­spec­tively, af­ter de­mand­ing com­pen­sa­tion from formula man­u­fac­tur­ers—the lat­ter was jailed for five years.

Dr. Tan has since been re­leased from de­ten­tion, while In­ner Mon­go­lia’s PSB has or­dered its county-level lead­ers to make fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the case. The doc­tor now says he doesn’t re­gret his ac­tions and is pre­pared to “serve a year’s sen­tence in the worst case”—let’s hope he doesn’t com­plain about the prison food in the mean­time.

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