Comics Chief Pays Tribute at Chinese Hero's Memorial After Internet Ban

Rage Comics had its website and social media channels shut down after a comedian joked about a hero of the civil war era.

Chinese students paint portraits of Lei Feng, communist China's most famous model soldier, on bricks at a construction site in Liaocheng, eastern China's Shandong province, March 12, 2017.

The head of an online comedy company banned from China's internet for "insulting" a revolutionary war icon has paid his respects at the hero's monument in the northern province of Hebei, official media reported.

Rage Comics CEO Ren Jian posted a short video of himself and nine colleagues presenting a floral tribute at the Dong Cunrui Martyrs’ Memorial Park in Hebei's Longhua county on several social media platforms, including news site Jinri Toutiao and video-sharing sites Youku and Bilibili.

Ren also apologized for "insulting [Dong's] heroic deeds and spirit, which had a negative impact on society," the government-backed China News Service reported.

In a letter of apology, Ren Jian blamed the incident on "lax discipline" among the company's employees, whose average age is 26.

"They are young and creative and enthusiastic, but they have not experienced any hardships," CNS quoted Ren as saying. "The incident also revealed that the team’s legal awareness is weak and the company’s management mechanisms are imperfect."

Ren said he had "conducted self-examination and self-correction" after voluntarily removing all of his company's content.

He pledged that nothing similar would be allowed to happen again.

Rage Comic's account was revoked from major social media and streaming websites after it joked about civil war hero Dong Cuirui.

The company had run afoul of a new law banning any "dishonoring" of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's revolutionary heroes and martyrs, official media reported at the time.

China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), passed a law in March criminalizing anyone deemed to have smeared the “reputation and honor” of the ruling party’s canon of heroes and martyrs.

An employee who answered the phone at Rage Comics' offices on Thursday declined to comment.

"I am sorry, but I can't talk to you, because we're not giving interviews," the employee said. "If there are any new developments, they will be publicly announced."

Preserving revolutionary mythology

U.S.-based cartoonist Cheng Tao said the new law is all about ensuring loyalty to the party and to the ideology of President Xi Jinping.

"The law ... doesn't set out clearly defined legal parameters; rather it is aimed at intimidating ordinary people when it comes to the things they say," Cheng told RFA.

"As far as this apology is concerned ... sometimes these things are done as a last resort and sometimes for profit," he said. "[Ren] is being conciliatory in the hope of having the ban lifted, or at least being allowed to survive [in business]."

He said the ruling party is more concerned with preserving its revolutionary mythology than with establishing historical facts.

He cited the case of model worker Lei Feng, whose story is fictionalized, but officially sanctioned and may not be questioned, even when most of it isn't backed up by the historical record. Lei now has his own set of monuments and memorial halls in and around Changsha, provincial capital of southern China’s Hunan province.

According to lawyer Liu Shuqing, the wording of the new law is vague, making it hard to determine who is regarded as a revolutionary hero or martyr.

"This legislation doesn't stand the test of natural justice," Liu told RFA. "To begin with, who exactly is considered a hero?"

"For a criticism that is factually accurate to be considered defamatory, I think makes this a bad law," he said. "It places restrictions on the constitutional right to freedom of expression."

Earlier this year, China’s culture ministry launched an administrative crackdown on the spoofing of its revolutionary culture and its heroes, ordering the deletion of thousands of online videos for parodying popular “red classics and heroes.”

The ministry had already begun investigating and removing videos from online sites after criticism in official media of the spoofing of the communist-era choral classic "Yellow River Cantata" by a number of performers, including a choir dressed in panda suits and singing about year-end bonuses.

The moves are part of a much broader range of measures being rolled out under President Xi Jinping, which some analysts say hark back to the ideological controls of the Mao-era Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Reported by Wong Siu-san for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.