Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


Elizabeth Spahn

First Page



This Article examines the most notorious Chinese internet defamation case, Wang Hong v. Maxstation, which awarded substantial damages against an individual consumer as well as two online magazines for criticizing a laptop product on the internet. The case created a widespread political controversy on the internet in China, highlighting an underlying tension in the current policies of the Chinese government, which promotes a more open market economy while maintaining tight censorship over public speech. The case developed landmark legal doctrine in China, extending judge made defamation law while ignoring the Chinese consumer protection statute. Extending defamation doctrine to include factual omissions as evidence of falsity substantially departs from prior Chinese law creating serious conflicts with defamation law in other countries. Allowing a corporation to recover for insult and injured feelings, regardless of the truth of the underlying claims, and without recognizing some exception for opinion or fair comment, departs very substantially from defamation law in other WTO jurisdictions, where truth is an absolute defense to defamation, and expression of opinion/fair comment derogatory language about products by consumers is more widely tolerated. The case cannot be viewed historically as a successful application of rule "according to" law, given that the decisions ignore the relevant statute. The case may stand for an early example of rule "of' law in which Supreme People's Court Interpretations are given precedence over statutes.