Beijing High Court Rejects The Ninety-Nines Governor Jingxian “Saki” Chen’s Final Bid to Overturn Defamation Trial Verdict in Favor of Julie Wang

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Record-Setting Aviatrix Julie Wang Again Victorious as Beijing People's Supreme Court Denies Jingxian "Saki" Chen's Application for a New Trial; High Court Finds Insufficient Factual and Legal Basis for Overturning Lower Court Verdict Dismissing Entirety of Chen's Lawsuit. Zhang Ding and Qu Haibo of the Beijing Weiheng Law Firm represented Capt. Julie Wang.

Julie Wang completes global circumnavigation with arrival at Addison Airport, September 19, 2016.

By denying Chen’s bid for a retrial, the Court let stand the trial court record containing numerous factual findings adverse to Chen, including Chen’s admissions that Wang is the first Chinese woman to circumnavigate the globe in an airplane . . . .

The Beijing Supreme Court Friday rejected The Ninety-Nines Governor Jingxian “Saki” Chen’s application for a retrial of her defamation case against record-setting aviatrix Julie Wang, ending Chen’s campaign against Wang in the P.R.C. courts. The ruling let stand a July 2019 trial verdict of a three-judge panel of the Beijing Haidian District People's Court unanimously dismissing Chen's defamation lawsuit against Wang, finding that Wang's allegedly defamatory statements were based in fact and had not injured Chen's reputation.

Chen had appealed the judgment to the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court which, in December 2019, affirmed the trial court's verdict dismissing her lawsuit and ordering her to pay the court costs. Chen then sought review by the Beijing Supreme People’s Court, alleging reversible error committed by the trial and intermediate appellate courts.

In the High Court’s ruling Friday, a unanimous panel of the Court rejected Chen's bid for a retrial, finding that neither the trial court nor intermediate appellate court committed reversible error by dismissing Chen’s complaint against Wang. The decision affirmed both lower court determinations that Wang’s analysis of Chen’s flight was based on the facts and was therefore neither false nor defamatory.

In a six-page ruling, the Beijing Supreme People’s Court reviewed the alleged points of error that Chen argued entitled her to a new trial. In rejecting Chen’s arguments, the Court accepted the lower courts’ finding that Wang’s expression of her views was based on her understanding of the rules applicable to the 2016 around-the-world flight event in which she participated. As an aviation professional, her criticism constituted her informed expression of legitimate doubts about Chen Jingxian’s ““flying with senior [male] pilots,” “fake flying”, “hiring a senior flight instructor”, “hype”, and “false naming [herself “first”] . . . and [therefore her commentary] “still belongs to the scope of the matter on the basis of the facts.”

The Court also instructed that Chen was not immune from legitimate criticism. The defamation standard applicable to Chen as a “pubic figure” according to the ruling, "is moderately higher than that [for] ordinary people,” and “[under] the supervision of public opinion and the right of the public to [express and] know their feelings, the corresponding personality rights of public figures should be restricted.” The Court found that although the manner of Wang’s expression of her views was “sharp,” given the professional audience and its recognition and understanding of the flight event, Wang’s criticism of Chen’s flight “has not reached the serious extent that she should bear the responsibility for insults and libel in law, nor is it enough to cause the damage [to reputation of which Chen complains.] Therefore, it was not unreasonable for the court of appeals below to find that Wang’s speech does not constitute an infringement of the right of reputation and [on that basis] to reject Chen Jingxian’s claim.”

By denying Chen’s bid for a retrial, the Court let stand the trial court record containing numerous factual findings adverse to Chen, including Chen’s admissions that Wang is the first Chinese woman to circumnavigate the globe in an airplane, that the dates of Wang’s flight are as Wang has claimed, i.e., August 17, 2016 through September 19, 2016, and that Chen had not flown her own circumnavigation flight entirely herself, having ceded control of the flight to the aircraft’s owner, flight instructor Laurence Rohl, when she was incapable of controlling and landing the aircraft in high winds and when her lack of stamina had rendered her too fatigued to fly.

Wang issued the following statement praising the decision: "The High Court’s decision Friday repudiating Saki Chen’s defamation lawsuit is a victory for the truth. By affirming the trial verdict against Chen, the Court rejected the theory that true statements can nevertheless be actionable if sufficiently insulting. Since the supposedly offending statements were, according to the high court, “based in fact” – affirming the finding initially made by the trial court – if the statements are insulting it is Chen’s own behavior that is to blame. Indeed, the trial and appellate courts made that very point. When I flew around the world in 2016 I never imagined I would become embroiled in lawsuits lasting for years, defending an accomplishment the bona fides of which are self-evident based on the flight data and records all of which I've made public. Scurrilous innuendo and petty insinuation cannot change the facts. It may cause temporary disruption but ultimately proves useless in the face of real fact. Although I’ve won this round decisively, the effort to extinguish Chen’s baseless claims will continue until the truth prevails and aviation history records the first Asian woman to fly around the world without stain or blemish."

Julie Wang is an airline captain who, in 2016, made international headlines with a solo global circumnavigation flight mostly over open ocean. She is the first Asian woman to fly an airplane around the world, the first Chinese person to fly around the world solo and the first Chinese woman to fly around the world.

Capt. Wang was represented by Zhang Ding and Qu Haibo of the Beijing Weiheng law firm.

Case: Chen Jingxian, Plaintiff-Appellant v. Wang Zheng, Defendant-Appellee, Beijing Supreme People’s Court, Case No. (2020) Jingminshen 3092.

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Gregory Light, Esq.
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