A couple weeks back I wrote a rather exhaustive (at least for me) post for CNET Asia titled “Human flesh search engines — crowd-sourcing ‘justice’“. In it I called the human flesh search engines a “rather uniquely Chinese phenomenon”.
I’d like to rescind that statement. Rather, I’d like to adjust it to say a “rather uniquely China-related phenomenon”. I suppose human flesh searches, acts of vigilante investigation into revealing the personal and presumed “private” details of an individual for some sort of mob justice, happen the world over. However, it seems it’s here in China they flourish.
Until recently, the only human flesh search that I had heard of to attack foreigners was the racy and recurring case of the Chinabounder – a (former?) expat in Shanghai who made news with his blog posts about banging the locals.
Two nights ago I was fiddling around with my new MacBook in bed (yeah, yeah) and saw the following tweet on Twitter:
“Underbelly of China blogging. Threats, accusations, scandal. You must read the comments & follow the links too. http://is.gd/imE6.”
The link takes you to a post called “Who is Chris Devonshire-Ellis?” at Wang Jianshuo’s excellent blog. From there, it was a slippery slide into the muddy realm where investigative journalism meets full-on character assassination.
Jianshuo’s post was spurred by some off-topic comments on an old post of his that were alleged to be libelous and defamatory towards Chris Devonshire-Ellis. Upon blogging about the exchange, and the e-mails he had received to delete the comments, Jianshuo then received phone calls from Chris’ lawyer demanding he take down the posts that spoke negative of Chris.
Let me interject that I don’t know Chris personally, but have been around this scene long enough to know who he is and to have digitally brushed shoulders with him. I have met friends and foes of his, but truly have no opinion or experience with him as a person.
Reading through the comments at Jianshuo’s blog, I noticed a link to a post at the Fear of a Red Planet blog called “Chris Devonshire-Ellis is NOT a lawyer . . . .“. Hard for that not to pique anyone’s interest, and with the wife now snoring softly beside me, I figured what the hell – lets see where this rabbit hole goes.
The post, from November 2008, does what’s on the box – brashly states and goes to some lengths to prove Chris isn’t a lawyer. After reading it though, I was inclined to ask myself: “Hold on a minute! Did he ever purport to be a lawyer?”
In short, kind of yes he did/does.
This ALA article [pdf] [alt. link] about a member’s trip to China calls him a lawyer directly. Granted, perhaps the author just got it wrong (happens all the time, believe it or not). But then the question does creep up – why would she think it in the first place? Perhaps it’s Chris’ LinkedIn page, which while never stating he is a lawyer, very clearly gives that impression (see this and this screen shot – highlighting added).
Or maybe, but not likely, the writer stumbled across this old archived version of Dezan Shira’s Web site which insinuates their group Chairman and CEO received a law degree from the University of Strathclyde.
Perhaps, and more likely, she was just reading materials produced by Dezan Shira themselves and came across this Investment Guide To Beijing, Tianjin and North China [pdf] [alt. link] from 2005, which states:
Our Regional (and Senior) Partner is Chris Devonshire-Ellis, one of China’s most experienced lawyers with over sixteen years PRC experience. He is supported by our Regional team of Accountants and Business Registrations Managers.
Chris Devonshire-Ellis. Senior Partner, Dezan Shira & Associates, Beijing. Chris is one of China’s longest serving lawyers with some 16 years China experience and is the founder of Dezan Shira & Associates, China’s largest independent tax consultants, as well as publisher of the acclaimed “China Briefing” magazines and books. Chris arranges effective Joint Venture and Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise tax structures and profits repatriation at the pre-incorporation planning stage in addition to servicing other legal, contractual and tax issues for Dezan Shira’s clients – over 1,000 international small-medium enterprises from some 52 different countries. He is based in Beijing.
NOTE: The above sources were discovered by commentators at the FOARP post mentioned above. All credit and critique belongs to them.
So, the big question that remains – after sorting out that Chris isn’t a lawyer, despite being quite content to let the professional community believe he is – where’s the harm? I honestly can’t say. With no intentions of using Dezan Shira’s services, I’ve no axe to grind with them, nor do I feel as a company they wouldn’t do a good job in the advisory role in which they market themselves as.
In addition, I know that Dezan Shira does have a number of lawyers on staff (like, real ones) and have found no evidence that they have any unsatisfied customers – bar maybe this guy.
Truthfully, I wish the company all the best. On top of that, whatever his “official” qualifications are, consultants are consultants and advice is advice – caveat emptor and all that. Chris has been in China almost as long as I’ve been out of primary school, and the success of his businesses here does account for something.
Additionally, perceived as a lawyer or not, I doubt that Chris would have ever actually passed himself off in a professional capacity as a lawyer, and likely has only used such “presumption” for marketing his business and perhaps stroking his ego a bit. And what’s marketing if not the exploitation of the public’s assumptions? And what’s a successful business without a large ego at the helm?
And lest we forget, this is China. Laowai have been reinventing themselves in this country since Marco Polo pretended he was a senior official in Kublai’s court.
So, why post about it at all? Why, when I don’t have a personal stake in it (I’m not a client, a jaded business partner, a competitor, or anything else to Chris or his businesses), post about a person who has a history of going to great lengths to protect his image (false or not) online? Why put myself in a situation like poor Wang Jianshuo, who has been hassled with phone calls to remove his posts because they contain comments (not by Jianshuo) that are unflattering. Why, like some have reported, open myself to the possibility of receiving threatening e-mails telling me to take this down or else?
Well, in part because I believe in truth, and believe that truth should not be bullied from the light by men with means or power. But that’s a bit self-righteous.
I also mention this because it’s topical and entertaining in a voyeuristic sort of way. It’s interesting to see how far people will go to prove a point – as reference, check out FOARP’s recent post, and previous comments, about a China Briefing entry by Chris that toes the ethical line between making a point about business and using a tragic terror attack to promote your services.
But perhaps most of all, I am inspired to post this because I like Wang Jianshuo’s blog and it pisses me off that Chris would use the comments there to ask the moronic question: “Are indeed, the Chinese ready for such freedoms of expression?” in a 2point6billion post.
Chris tries to turn what is essentially some schoolyard name calling into a grandiose image of the fearful things to come. Using attacks, true or not, on him to justify the repression of a people’s liberty.
There are even somewhat disingenous attempts to justify such comments. Posted after libellous statements appeared on a Chinese blog run by a Mr. Wang Jian Shuo, justification not to remove such comments appeared as follows:
“I always use the rule set by Martin-Lurther King: people should be judged by their characters instead of anything else. I don’t delete any post because it is posted by foreigners, Chinese, black, yellow. The only guideline is, it is the right or wrong comment. I won’t delete any comments just because he/she is foreigner, or leave a comment there just because he/she is a foreigner.”
Apparently it’s OK to libel ‘foreigners’ and not remove offensive posts about them because, well, this is China, it’s a Chinese blog, and they are ‘foreigners’. So thats all right then. One rule for China, another for everyone else in the blogosphere. Or so Martin Luther King is supposed to endorse. It’s corrupt, and not a little sly.
The MLK quote was written on Jianshuo’s blog to explain his comment-removing policy. He very clearly states that he doesn’t remove comments based on anything other than whether it is right or wrong. How then does Chris twist that into some “us” verses “them” diatribe about MLK endorsing Chinese xenophobia and racism?
Thoughts? And, please, keep them un-libelous — I don’t have much credit on my mobile.
UPDATE – Feb 12, 2009
As can be seen below, there are 70-some-odd comments on this thread. Due to the fact I’ve received legal threats from Chris Devonshire-Ellis as well as threats stating he will attempt to have this site blocked in China (being that he’s buddies with the vice minister of MIIT – see his site for the official palm squeeze) I’ve decided to take the comments down.
This was not an easy decision, and I held out on doing so for as long as I could. I have a strong belief that people should have the voice and forum to speak on whatever topic they desire. However, the tipping point in my decision was that ultimately the comments were not about this post; instead they were a long, long collection of complaints about Chris and his business. And though some of them are very likely true – as they were not all refuted in several comments Chris himself gave – some were no doubt untrue. And though “untrue opinions” about a public figure is a long way from “libel”, Chris doesn’t seem to see it that way.
As much as I’d love to be a beacon of free speech, I don’t have the time or wherewithal to deal with Chris’ threats nor can I guess what is true and what isn’t – apparently an ability Chris believes I hold, as he refused on every occasion I asked for him to simply tell me which comments were libelous so I could remove them. He never did.
If you posted a comment, for which ever side of this debate, I thank you and I’m sorry. I still have all the comments and would be happy to provide you with the text of your comment if you’d like to post it elsewhere. Also, trackbacks and pingbacks are still open on this thread, so you’re welcome, and encouraged to use your own blog to voice your thoughts on this issue and trackback here to have a link to your post displayed.
UPDATE – Nov 2, 2016
Recently it came to my attention that Chris Devonshire-Ellis has written about myself (and several other writers that had been publicly critical of him) as well as this blog post on his personal blog (screenshot). For 7 years the notice below had appeared here in place of this post. At the time, Chris had begun to harass me and threatened to use what clout he had with Chinese officials to cause problems for me and this site. Not wishing to get in a scrum with someone who, whatever his faults, clearly had deeper relationships and pull than I; I removed the post. With that, I had felt the issue was closed, but despite leaving China several years ago, apparently Chris did not. In his recent post (dated April 1, 2016), he mis-represents this post (and by extension, myself) as advocating the tracking down of his daughter. While Chris’ daughter is mentioned in the comments below, first by him and then by others questioning if he actually has a daughter, no comment says anything about trying to physically track her down, as he alleges. So, as the original content of the post was never legitimately contested, and the comments are now being referenced by Chris, I feel it is necessary to repost the original post and all its comments. Comments, however, are closed to new submissions.
The original notice, which had sat in place of this post for the past 7 years.
NOTICE: Unfortunately, due to threats of legal action by Chris Devonshire-Ellis, this post and its comments have been taken down.
Though I am confident that the contents of the article are not in any way libelous, as Ellis claims, his threats did not limit themselves to seeking a court decision on whether or not they were libelous. Instead they indicated that Chris would personally attempt to get this site blocked in China and have myself and the other authors of this blog harassed by the local PSB (under the allegation that we are in some way acting as “investigative journalists” by blogging about being expats in China).
Though it pains me to remove it, I also feel whatever truth was in the original post is not worth the hassle and headache Ellis promised to make of it. I do however feel it is my responsibility to post this notice to let all our readers know what happened to this post. Please accept our apologies.