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Taiwan food critic jailed for criticizing food
June 23, 2011 10:19 AM   Subscribe

Blogger jailed over critical restaurant review. The Taichung branch of Taiwan High Court on Tuesday sentenced a blogger who wrote that a restaurant’s beef noodles were too salty to 30 days in detention and two years of probation and ordered her to pay NT$200,000 in compensation to the restaurant.
posted by lily_bart (89 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Note to self: Cancel plans for Taiwanese Yelp clone.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:21 AM on June 23, 2011 [21 favorites]


There are many reasons why blogger should pay a debt to society, but this is not one of them.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:23 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


And such small portions!
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:24 AM on June 23, 2011 [16 favorites]


Yang said he filed the charges because Liu’s negative comments about his restaurant led many customers to call him to ask if her review was true.

He said he hoped the case would teach her a lesson.

Huang Cheng-lee (黃呈利), a lawyer in Taichung, said that bloggers who post food reviews should remember to be truthful in their commentary and supplement their comments with photographs to protect themselves.

He also said bloggers should be objective and fair in their writing.


Thank you, Anti-Federalists, for the Bill of Rights, and in particular for the First Amendment. And thank you, U.S. Supreme Court, for making it perfectly clear that the First Amendment applies to libel claims, too.
posted by bearwife at 10:25 AM on June 23, 2011 [30 favorites]


These pretzels are making me thirsty feel incredible. Yum!
posted by flippant at 10:25 AM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Is this real? I mean, I don't seen any evidence that it's not real, but I'd really like it to be not real.
posted by neuromodulator at 10:26 AM on June 23, 2011


Note to self: Cancel plans for Taiwanese Yelp clone.

Note to self: Get in touch with Taiwanese mob re: Yelp clone.
posted by griphus at 10:27 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


How does a dispute between two private parties fall under their criminal statutes? I'm wondering if there's some graft going on behind the scenes.
posted by crapmatic at 10:28 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Were the beef noodles actually too salty?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:30 AM on June 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


How does a dispute between two private parties fall under their criminal statutes? I'm wondering if there's some graft going on behind the scenes.

There are criminal libel statutes in Taiwan.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:30 AM on June 23, 2011


Yeah, I was wondering the same thing - apparently criminal defamation statutes are fairly widespread.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:32 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


It may be Taiwan...but with rulings like this it's still China.
posted by jnnla at 10:35 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


...bloggers who post food reviews should remember to be truthful in their commentary and supplement their comments with photographs to protect themselves.

How do you photograph the flavor of "too salty"?
posted by Splunge at 10:38 AM on June 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


A fresh a peppa?
posted by phaedon at 10:39 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


X-ray crystallography, duh.
posted by Mister_A at 10:39 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Unless there are visible salt crystals you can't say it's too salty. That's not really fair; some people might like it that way.
posted by bleep at 10:40 AM on June 23, 2011


How could a photograph prove that the noodles were too salty? I think crapmatic is right about there being some hidden factors behind the scenes. Either that, or the court really wanted to teach bloggers a lesson, and decided this was the case to do it with.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:40 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Argh, splunge!
posted by Kevin Street at 10:41 AM on June 23, 2011


The High Court found that Liu’s criticism about cockroaches in the restaurant to be a narration of facts, not intentional slander.

Health officials who inspected the restaurant did not find conditions to be as unsanitary as Liu had described, so the High Court also ruled that Liu must pay NT$200,000 to the owner for revenues lost as a result of her blog post.

To be fair, they did have a sign in the bathroom claiming that cockroaches must wash their hands before returning to the kitchen.
posted by qvantamon at 10:41 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


The one thing I remember distinctly about the Taiwanese airport was this poster, visible as soon as you got off the plane, that said something to the effect of 'Bloggers, watch out! You need to speak respectfully about the nation or there will be consequences.'

I can't find the poster I'm thinking of online, but it was really startling, and in fact I sort of remember it mentioning jail time as a consequence. This, coupled with the soldier with the large gun at the X-ray machine between terminals, did not do much for my impression of Taiwan. Nice shopping malls, though.
posted by librarylis at 10:42 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


A Los Angeles Times food critic recently got the unwelcome mat as well. Ay, the panopticon is upon us.
posted by effluvia at 10:45 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, you all know the saying: If you can't say anything nice, go directly to jail. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:46 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess they really don't like being criticized in public. Maybe it's considered to be a loss of face.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:46 AM on June 23, 2011


Food Defamation Laws
posted by hank at 10:47 AM on June 23, 2011


Just as another bit of data, one of the major plot points of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo revolves around the fact that Sweden apparently considers libel a criminal matter that comes with jail time if you're convicted.
posted by Naberius at 10:47 AM on June 23, 2011


I hear that the noodles in question are made from leftover bits of shoe leather, which explains their rather tough texture and their durability as footwear.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:54 AM on June 23, 2011


Note to self: Cancel plans to visit Taiwan. Urge friends to do same.
posted by Citrus at 10:57 AM on June 23, 2011


The decision over whether to send poorly prepared food back and risk the cook spitting in it or instead to blog about it is easy in Taiwan.

After all, they might not spit in it.
posted by tommasz at 10:58 AM on June 23, 2011


Note to self: Cancel plans to visit Taiwan. Urge friends to do same.

That's a jail sentence, right there, Citrus! 6 months!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:58 AM on June 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


librarylis: "This, coupled with the soldier with the large gun at the X-ray machine between terminals, did not do much for my impression of Taiwan. Nice shopping malls, though."

Welcome to pure capitalism.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:01 AM on June 23, 2011


Anyone else feel like this could have been a deleted scene from Tampopo?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 11:03 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I find Astro Zombie too salty.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:05 AM on June 23, 2011


Note to self: Cancel plans to visit Taiwan. Urge friends to do same.

I hope you're being facetious. Taiwan is one of Asia's most underrated destinations with great food, lovely people, an interesting history and very committed political activists. And despite its checkered political past (and present), it's still one of the most vibrant, truer democracies in Asia.
posted by peripathetic at 11:08 AM on June 23, 2011 [12 favorites]


I find Astro Zombie too salty.

That's a lawsuitin'!
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:10 AM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I find Astro Zombie too salty.

The trick is to get close, without actually licking, Astro Zombie. If there is an actual tongue-touch, that is a 15-point demerit.*

*Only under the public competition; the rules concerning licking Astro Zombie in private are, of course, between Astro Zombie and the licker.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:14 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


This makes me think of "Sorry Fugu".
posted by Mister_A at 11:14 AM on June 23, 2011


Kevin Street: "Argh, splunge!"

If I had a dime for every time I've heard that.
posted by Splunge at 11:17 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


peripathetic at 11:08 AM on June 23 [+] [!]
[Taiwan] is still one of the most vibrant, truer democracies in Asia.

Not so sure about that. Putting a blogger in 30 days detention along with a fine because of an opinion about noodles is absurd in the extreme and should - at least - be a sign to travellers that Taiwan has one heck of a long way to go before they are a true democracy. [Not that you probably can't find some absurd court cases in America....]
posted by Rashomon at 11:22 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Could this be a case of one judge gone a little crazy who will be reversed on the appeal that was filed? We have cranky judges in The U.S. too. It sounds as though she may not actually be jailed at the moment. All the article says is that she was sentenced to 30 days and has appealed. I wonder if the newspaper's headline could be hyperbole .
posted by longsleeves at 11:26 AM on June 23, 2011


Sounds like the 30 days in jail is actually a suspended sentence.
posted by gyc at 11:29 AM on June 23, 2011


The trick is to get close, without actually licking, Astro Zombie.

That's a trick on Astro Zombie. Do you also offer Astro Zombie candy and then throw it away when he gets close?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:31 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mister_A likes it when Astro Zombie talks about itself in the third person.
posted by Mister_A at 11:32 AM on June 23, 2011


We (probably) shouldn't hold all of Taiwan responsible for this and decide to swear off the whole place. I certainly don't want to be held to account for how Arizona treats immigrants or everytime some state tries to outlaw various consensual acts between adults.
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:34 AM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


i like it. people who write restaurant reviews fall into two categories: self absorbed assholes or friends of the owner.
posted by kitchenrat at 11:51 AM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


the details of the particular case aside, the combination of jailtime, probation and compensation seem weirdly out of wack. NT$20,000=~US$700 so the 30days of jail time and 2 years of probation seem crazily too much by comparison.
posted by Bwithh at 12:09 PM on June 23, 2011


Bwithh, the article says the fine was NT200,000, which is about half what the average Taiwanese worker makes in a year. The average price of a bowl of beef noodles is probably NT80.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 12:16 PM on June 23, 2011


i like it. people who write restaurant reviews fall into two categories: self absorbed assholes or friends of the owner.

Or, you know, restaurant critics.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:23 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


kitchenrat

people who write restaurant reviews fall into two categories: self absorbed assholes or friends of the owner.

Let's try your theory shall we?
> Blogger: Your noodles are too salty.
> Owner: Only a self absorbed asshole would write that my noodles are too salty!
OR
> Blogger: Your noodles are too salty.
> Owner: You're a good friend of mine, thank you! Have some more noodles on me.

Nope doesn't fit.
posted by Rashomon at 12:24 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


There can be no other point of view, Rashomon.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:27 PM on June 23, 2011 [19 favorites]


Rashomon,

Taiwan is a true democracy in that their political leaders are directly chosen by the people in free and fair elections. As for press freedom, it ranked 48 in the world last year, but is the third most highly ranked Asian country after Japan and Hong Kong. This court ruling does strike me as unusual and does not jive with my experiences in Taiwan at all, where I worked at a pro-democracy non-profit for two years. There is no such thing as a perfect democracy, of course, but I am a bit annoyed by a couple of knee-jerky responses that I've witnessed so far. I am trying not to take it too personally, but I really fucking love this country and I wish it was better understood.
posted by peripathetic at 12:27 PM on June 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


This is a nutty case, but nutty cases happen all the time in all kinds of places. 48 isn't an awesome place to be on the press freedom ranking, but neither is it horrible, and to put things into perspective, that's ranked around Italy, Slovenia, Paraguay, and El Salvador.

Compare to the 171 ranking for China, deep into the red.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:31 PM on June 23, 2011


Suddenly I'm glad to live in the USA. I'm sure that feeling will disappear momentarily.
posted by humboldt32 at 12:45 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Brain is hurting... must stop thinking about this now.
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:56 PM on June 23, 2011


I'm an American too, albeit one that was born in Taiwan. Honestly, searching my own reactions, the tone on some of the posts strikes me as "arrogance". It could be American arrogance, or Western arrogance, or just arrogance that comes from living in a big/powerful country.

Taiwan owes a good deal of it's existence to the United States. I'm simplifying a bit, but the Truman administration was prepared to let Taiwan fend for itself before the Korean War triggered the containment policy, which then made Taiwan a key strategic partner in the Cold War. This began the long relationship between Taiwan and the United States which led to economic, social, and political development of the island.

Taiwan has become one of US's oversea success stories. Maybe one of the few. And Taiwan's had it's own achivements like democratic governance, universal health care, and bubble milk-tea. I'm not telling you that Taiwan is above reproach. There's still political corruption, copyright violations, and the whole relationship with China. But these are largely first world problems.

I'm just asking for some nuance and tact to a longtime US ally that's pretty much largely integrated into the global system. Maybe also a consideration that when a country goes democratic, it's not going to be exactly like America. A country whose government actually has changed for the better over the years because of US involvement, and a country whose people can still be said to actually like Americans (not just their money either).
posted by FJT at 1:00 PM on June 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


people who write restaurant reviews fall into two categories: self absorbed assholes or friends of the owner.

I have known four print-published restaurant critics, and none of them were assholes. Two of them were a little self-absorbed.
posted by longsleeves at 1:00 PM on June 23, 2011


These folks worked to oppose passage of model state food libel laws in the US (historical, no news since 2000)
posted by hank at 1:15 PM on June 23, 2011


wrote that a restaurant’s beef noodles were too salty

It sounds from the article like the crux of the case was that the blogger wrote that all the food in the restaurant was too salty, having only tried the noodles. I can see the reasoning behind their decision, even if the resulting prosecution is an unreasonable response.
posted by IanMorr at 1:50 PM on June 23, 2011


humboldt32: "Suddenly I'm glad to live in the USA. I'm sure that feeling will disappear momentarily."

Have you been to the Bachmann FPP?
posted by Splunge at 2:05 PM on June 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


@Splunge: Can't bring myself to even read that one. That's ok the "US Supreme Court rules in favor of data mining" FPP brought me crashing down from my euphoric state.

Didn't take long.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:17 PM on June 23, 2011


A few reviewers in Australia have been sued over bad reviews and ordered to pay large sums of money.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:25 PM on June 23, 2011


It's always interesting to watch Americans discover they live in one of the freest countries in the world.
posted by eeeeeez at 3:38 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do you also offer Astro Zombie candy and then throw it away when he gets close?

Yes. I'm withholding it. Look at me, getting off.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 3:44 PM on June 23, 2011


I hope they never find that online review I did of their tiger dick soup. ("Way too dicky.")
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:50 PM on June 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


The article isn't very clearly written, but it seems to say that while the judge did criticize the blogger for the "saltiness" thing, the fine was for accusing the restaurant of unsanitary conditions which were ruled inaccurate. It doesn't attribute a specific cause for the jail sentence or probation.

According to Wikipedia, in the U.S., "Criminal libel is rarely prosecuted but exists on the books in many states, and is constitutionally permitted in circumstances essentially identical to those where civil libels liability is constitutional."
posted by Zed at 4:02 PM on June 23, 2011


'The court that ruled that "too salty" is libel is too salty'

... is what I heard one stranger on the street say to another recently.
posted by zippy at 4:13 PM on June 23, 2011


Were the beef noodles actually too salty?

thin ice Astro Zombie.
posted by the noob at 4:32 PM on June 23, 2011


A few reviewers in Australia have been sued over bad reviews and ordered to pay large sums of money.

No, the restaurant in the SINGLE case that you so blithely refer to, ultimately lost in the Supreme Court.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:42 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's the penalty for pointing out that beef noodles are *supposed* to be salty?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:44 PM on June 23, 2011


They send you to the salt mines.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:45 PM on June 23, 2011


They send you to the salt mines.

I see. How are the noodles there?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:50 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Surprisingly bland.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:50 PM on June 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


Oh, crap!

*is beaten to death for badmouthing the noodles at the salt mines*
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:51 PM on June 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


peripathetic

Understood. Taiwan is indeed a democracy. And this article is most definitely cherry picking a case to make it seem like Taiwan is some backwater dicatorship. I guess it just drives me crazy when I see stories like this. But having never been to Taiwan I am hoping it is an exception to the normal course of daily life there.

I guess we should take this article with a grain of salty beef noodles.
posted by Rashomon at 5:20 PM on June 23, 2011


The cockroaches were too salty, but no one took pics to support the claim.

[And I, a hobby food blogger, may have to go to that lovely country in the fall for my job...colleagues promise to take me to "that great place, maaan, you have no idea", where they had whatever or else. I'd better get writer's block for a while. Blogger's block, really.]
posted by Namlit at 5:21 PM on June 23, 2011


The story behind why beef noodles are so salty is that once upon a time, it was the only way to smuggle salt out of the country, to start a new life in the Americas, where once they had no salt, and now they have all of the salt. Immigrants used to arrive by boat and the smugglers would transfer to special "salt skiffs", which were basically a square floating platform with a fine bamboo mesh stretched across the middle. The immigrants were instructed to finally empty their bladders - a great relief, having held it in the entire way - through the fine mesh, which filtered out the mineral particulates, namely, salt. Their great satisfied moans of "Aaaaaaaaahhhh!" echoed throughout this strange new continent, and noticeably voluminous urinators were said to be "worth their salt" and generally sent back to the continent for more salt. Repeat performers were "true to their salt" but generally wanted to escape, and were locked downstairs in a cellar known as a "salt hold" (as in "hold that salt!"), and a burly man, known as a "salt shaker", would go down to rough them up from time to time to teach them the error of their ways. Those few that survived became "old salts", and died destitute, crippled by multiple strokes and sometimes pinched to death, their salty remains feasted upon by emaciated salt-dogs.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:27 PM on June 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Is it silly that this makes me slightly less willing to support Taiwan in a war against China?
posted by Dasein at 5:49 PM on June 23, 2011


Is it silly that this makes me slightly less willing to support Taiwan in a war against China?

I don't know. Can you rephrase you question by reference to the comparative saltiness of beef noodles?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:11 PM on June 23, 2011


Is it silly that this makes me slightly less willing to support Taiwan in a war against China?

All LULZing aside, I think of this as part of a continuum of a mindset born in China (locally, anyway, not on a human scale, of course). To support freedom is to support Taiwan's independence. From that freedom, must other freedoms grow over time.

In other words, this makes me even more determined to support Taiwan in a struggle against China. So that justice can flourish.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:18 PM on June 23, 2011


Is it silly that this makes me slightly less willing to support Taiwan in a war against China?

Yes. Extremely.
posted by peripathetic at 6:34 PM on June 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Having spent nearly two years there, I'm surprised to hear this. Never encountered anything of the sort.

There is an English language Yelp-ish review site based out of Kaohsiung, which is Taiwan's 2nd largest city.

Its parent site is based in Hanoi, and it's thriving, despite the complete lack of free speech in that nation.
posted by secondhand pho at 6:49 PM on June 23, 2011


Wonder what would happen if you videotaped the cops taking the critic away.
posted by rahnefan at 7:00 PM on June 23, 2011


Just as a point of perspective, this happened in Taichung. Obviously it would never ever happen in Taipei, which without any doubt whatsover is much more westernized / cosmopolitan and attitudes are more enlightened.

Think Arizona versus California, etc, and apply your usual irrational stereotyping.
posted by polymodus at 8:43 PM on June 23, 2011


detention along with a fine because of an opinion about noodles is absurd

Another point of Asian perspective. They have fracking good food over there. The other side of the hemisphere implicitly understands (and for centuries have understood) an aspect of human existence called food culture, that Americans in comparison have only just awakened to.

More specifically, beef/beef soup noodles are a national specialty. It is even served in 5-star hotels like at The Regent Taipei.

So when a random food critic publishes a bad review of your beef noodles, it may very well demolish your business and livelihood.

Of course, this specific case may be overshadowed by issues such as organized crime and corruption within the Taiwanese justice system and/or unsustainable attitudes about free speech amongst the Taiwanese. But, a dispute about beef noodles? You betcha big deal.
posted by polymodus at 9:01 PM on June 23, 2011


taiwan doesn't have a jury system, so its basically luck of the draw w/r/t to the judge hearing the case. If he's having a bad day or loves beef soup noodle or is crazy you can get a bad ruling.

In general taiwan is an amazing country, wonderful people, delicious food and plenty to do and see. However its got its idiosyncrasies like everywhere else. Fist fights in congress, shrimp tempura pizza from dominos, and those weird uncanny valley computer animated news segments to name a few.
posted by askmehow at 12:28 AM on June 24, 2011


Judges here in Taiwan don't have to have any legal experience; all they have to do is pass a test. Also, the way "public insult" law is enforced ensures that there is no really trustworthy review mechanisms in the media. People have been successfully prosecuted for giving someone else the finger, under the same law, in Taipei. It is not uncommon, and as many people in Taiwan support this state of affairs, it's not going anywhere. I do wonder if the judge realized at the time that this seemingly small act would impact Taiwan's international reputation when the news hit the Internet, which, thankfully, is not beholden to Taiwan's public insult laws as it would not exist in that case.
posted by Poagao at 1:09 AM on June 24, 2011


Umami, I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law
Taiwan has put an end to my bloggin' and I'm so far from my home
posted by ShutterBun at 4:14 AM on June 24, 2011


The Taichung night market is the only place I've ever found grilled duck arseholes on a stick. Tiny little rings of delight, all threaded through with bamboo, redolent of wood smoke, sprinkled with chilli, Szechwan pepper and salt. Lots and lots of salt. They were delicious.
posted by Ahab at 8:26 AM on June 24, 2011


MetaFilter: duck arseholes on a stick
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:47 AM on June 24, 2011


Dasein: Is it silly that this makes me slightly less willing to support Taiwan in a war against China?

It's actually silly to only think about supporting a country in the event of war. People should support a peaceful and equitable solution to the Two Chinas Dilemma. One that doesn't result in thousands, if not millions of people losing their lives.

And at least in my opinion, I don't expect much support in the unfortunate event of a war. Taiwan is only recognized as an independent country by approximately 20 nation-states, most of which are poor countries that receive foreign aid from Taiwan. In addition, there's this whole thing of fairness in expecting outside parties to be dragged into another war they probably don't want to engage in.
posted by FJT at 1:17 PM on June 24, 2011


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