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A VIP Rape Case Tests The Limits Of Free Speech In China

Words fly, writings remain
Words fly, writings remain
Chen Jieren

Li Tianyi, son of a famous Chinese general, is currently being tried in a case of alleged gang rape along with four of his friends. Referring to this ongoing case, Yi Yanyou, a law professor at Tsinghua University, declared on his microblog account last week: “Even if it was rape, the harm of raping a bar hostess is less than raping a woman from a good family.”

After widespread criticism in the media and on the Internet, Yi deleted the statement and openly apologized for his words.

BEIJING - When I first read Yi’s “raping rhetoric,” I knew right away that he would be subject to severe criticism for three very different but related reasons. First, his statement was contrary to the basic spirit that “everybody is equal before the law." Second, it risks irritating the public who already have an appalling impression of this notorious princeling, Li Tianyi, who a year ago was caught driving a BMW without a license and assaulted a couple in a dispute over a traffic incident. Third, from the perspective of a law professor, such an expression fails to comply with basic academic standards.

However, I do not agree with some of the criticisms leveled at Yi, such as: he "lacks compassion for ordinary people" and "speaks only for his vested interests." Last year, I witnessed in person Yi's courage and professionalism when he provided aid to migrant workers defending their rights in Jiangsu Province. Besides, after realizing his own error he frankly apologized for causing the dismay and stressed that he in no way benefits from this affair.

In my view, it's most likely that Yi was instead clumsy in his discourse and tried to explain on the Internet in just 140 Chinese characters a criminal law issue that is quite complex. Alas, his loose language caused an uproar.

From reading his original text, what Yi may have meant was that compared with a typical rape by force, if the bar girl's behavior gave misleading messages, the criminal liability of the accused can be moderately reduced based on the victim's role. The fact that Yi replaced the concept of "extenuating circumstances" with the term "less harmful" is what triggered the controversy.

I oppose Yi's formulation, but I do not like the way his critics sought to decimate him and his character. Throughout this wave of polemic, a few dared to sympathize with Yi, but they too were roundly attacked.

Meanwhile the besiegers formed a strong and united front -- splendid in their moral superiority in spite of some disinformation. There is a huge gap between the two camps.

While Yi being forced to correct his improper expression was reassuring, the affair viewed in a much wider social context was not positive at all.

Competing freedoms

Let's be clear: every woman, bar hostess or otherwise, has basic rights that should not be infringed upon. Anyone with a bit of common sense knows this, a fortiori a law professor from a prestigious university.

Nevertheless, some see the affair as a question of defending Yi's rights to free speech and academic freedom in the face of mass cries to defend a victim's dignity.

Thus, there comes the divide and tension between the scholars and the public -- the freedom of academic speech, based on a superiority of knowledge vs. the public sentiment, based on a simple truth.

In a normal social context, a scholar's unusual opinion is there to attract attention and encourage the public to listen to his explanations. This is precisely what society needs in order to break with common prejudices and promote progress and civilization.

Unfortunately, in China, because far too often people hear falsehoods from scholars -- such as "melamine-tainted milk is harmless to humans..." -- they lose their credibility as independent voices. These days in China, titles such as professor or academic have become terms almost as derogatory as Xiao-jie (literally meaning young lady, but associated in practice with prostitutes in mainland China) or comrade (meaning a homosexual).

Facing such a social gap, we should not direct all the blame at the professor who speaks out, but look at it from a deeper social-political context. Because for too long Chinese society has faced political domination, scholars have been afraid or reluctant to speak independently. Even when they speak out, they are tied down by too many interests. Over time, this group of people, who should have originally been the social conscience of society, have become the least trusted of all people.

Thus, while we can agree that Yi's opinion on the rape case is indeed wrong, this endless lambasting and attempts to castigate him should have stopped after he deleted his post and apologized. Only when a society is capable of tolerating plurality of opinions, and even erroneous statements, can it offer its people hope.

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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