China Jails Social Media User For Two Years For Satire About President, Chairman Mao

2017-04-12
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Wang Jiangfeng (in green) is tried at the Zhaoyuan People's Court in Shandong province, March 30, 2017.
Wang Jiangfeng (in green) is tried at the Zhaoyuan People's Court in Shandong province, March 30, 2017.
Photo courtesy of Sun Wenjuan

A court in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong has jailed a social media user for two years on public order charges after he called President Xi Jinping by a forbidden nickname in an online chat session, his wife told RFA.

Wang Jiangfeng, who reportedly referred to the head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party as "Steamed Bun Xi" in a group message to the smartphone apps WeChat and QQ, was sentenced by the Zhaoyuan People's Court last week after being found guilty of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble."

"I got a message on [smartphone chat app] WeChat from lawyer Li Yongheng today at 10:14 a.m.," Wang's wife Sun Wenjuan said on Wednesday. "He told me that the judgement has been released, and that the sentence is two years."

"He also said that Wang Jiangfeng has already lodged an appeal; we are definitely appealing," she said.

Sun said she was shocked by the sentence, which also referred to his characterization of late supreme leader Mao Zedong as "Bandit Mao."

"We hadn't expected this—I think the sentence is too harsh," she said. "He just made a few comments or retweeted a few things."

"Our family finds this unacceptable ... He is innocent, and this outcome hurts us deeply."

Wang was found guilty of using WeChat and QQ chat groups to "insult, humiliate and disrespect" current and former national leaders," the judgement said.

His posts had caused "negative thoughts about the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party, the socialist system and the people's democratic dictatorship, causing psychological confusion and public disorder of a serious nature and of a particularly egregious kind, seriously disrupting public order," it said.

His defense team argued that while Wang's posts were inappropriate, they didn't constitute action in a public place, because they had been sent to a limited "friends circle" within WeChat.

But the court cited guidelines from China's Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate ordering courts to treat online insults as "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," and that an online space was the exact equivalent of a public space like a city street.

china-sun-wenjuan-april-2017-400.jpg
Wang's wife Sun Wenjuan discusses her husband's sentence in an online video, April 12, 2017. RFA
Citizen rights

Wang's sister Wang Jiangyun said her brother had done nothing wrong.

"All of my brother's actions were well within his common rights as a citizen," she said. "I have just finished reading the judgement and have just sent a message to Judge Liu saying that I don't believe he understands the law that he is charged with enforcing."

"He just made a few comments on QQ and WeChat that had no social impact whatsoever. He didn't start a riot," Wang Jiangyun said. "Which is more powerful in China, the regime or the law? It's truly the regime."

"Steamed Bun Xi" has been a banned word on China's tightly controlled internet since the president ordered the buns during a visit to a Beijing restaurant in December 2013, prompting petitioners to gather outside toting a placard that read "President Xi, I'd like to eat baozi" in a bid to get their grievances against the communist party heard.

The incident sparked an online meme in which Xi was referred to jokingly as Steamed Bun Xi, in a pun on the name of a legendary Song dynasty official who fought corruption. Censors later banned the meme, deleting social media posts that contained references to it.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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