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OCTOBER 9, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 14

Mass Media
The journalist who won't give up

ALSO
When Things Go Wrong: The horrific tale of one woman's disfigurement and abortive quest for justice highlights how official misconduct continues to plague society at every level
Don't Go There: The fight against corruption has its limits

  ALSO IN TIME
COVER: When Things Go Wrong
The horrific tale of one woman's disfigurement and abortive quest for justice highlights how official misconduct continues to plague society at every level
Don't Go There: The fight against corruption has its limits
Muckraker: The journalist who broke Wu Fang's story

SPECIAL SITE
TIME at the Olympics: Sydney 2000
TIMEasia, TIMEeurope, TIMEpacific and TIME.com bring you our take on the first Olympics of the new millennium

SUMMER OLYMPICS: Notebook
Highs and lows from the Sydney Games

INDONESIA: Doctor's Excuse
Suharto is ruled medically unfit for trial, raising the possibility that he may never be held responsible for alleged misdeeds

JAPAN: Up in Smoke
On the eve of a big international conference, the country's anti-cigarette activists try to rally against the tobacco lobby
Taking on Tobacco: Asia starts kicking some butts

JAPAN: Where Harpoons Fly
Whale hunting may stir global outrage, but to this proud Japanese village, it's a venerable way of life

TRAVEL WATCH: Driving Yourself Around the Bend in Bali

Lu Yuegang calls himself, only half-jokingly, a "hooligan journalist." When he sees things that are unjust, he goes mad. A hulk of a man with long sideburns and a warm laugh, Lu had been a reporter with China Youth Daily for 10 years when, in 1996, he heard the story of the acid attack against Wu Fang. He was outraged and flew to Shaanxi to hear her story firsthand. In August of that year his paper published his article, "The Strange Affair of the Destroyed Face." That's when the trouble started—in the form of a libel suit launched against him and the newspaper by the village of Fenghuo and its two most prominent inhabitants, local Communist Party secretary Wang Baojing and his son Wang Nongye.

Lu, a 42-year-old Sichuan native, was no stranger to controversy—he had already written a book criticizing the Three Gorges Dam, a high-profile project championed by some of China's highest-ranking leaders. Lu wasn't reprimanded for that, in part because other journalists had taken up the same crusade. With Wu Fang, however, he was on his own. And the more he dug into her case, the more obsessed he became with it. "She is an amazing woman," says Lu. "Anyone else would have committed suicide."

When the libel case was filed, Lu was gratified that his bosses at the paper said they would stand behind him. He braced for the fight, making several trips to Shaanxi for further research. In 1998 he wrote a 518-page book about the case, Big Country Small People. The book painstakingly reconstructed the acid attack and delved deeply into Wang Baojing's record as a "model worker." Lu found that claims of record harvests under Wang Baojing's supervision were largely spurious. He also cast doubt on whether Wang had actually met Mao 13 times as he claimed. "Maybe he saw Mao from a distance in Tiananmen Square," says Lu.

In June the court ruled against China Youth Daily in the libel suit, although the presiding judge declined to give any reasons for his verdict. Lu is determined to push on with the appeal, even though he realizes the chances of succeeding in Shaanxi's courts aren't great. He simply can't give up. "First, because of Wu Fang—she is just a villager, and she has had very unfair treatment. Second, because we all live under the same sun as Wu Fang—what happened to her could happen to us."

Last month Lu was in Xian for the opening of the appeal. On hand were several journalists from Beijing who had finally woken up to the story. Lu was upbeat until the day before the court hearing, when the judge suddenly announced that the session would be closed to the press because it was a "state secret." As Lu's lawyer went to protest the decision—in vain, it would turn out—Lu sat in a hotel coffee shop, cursing the system. "We never really thought we could win the case, but we hoped to tell people about it." Despairing, he posted a press release on the paper's website to announce that the court would be closed to the press—within minutes his mobile phone was ringing with calls from journalists all over China pledging their support. Lu brightened up: "I'm strong enough to fight these guys to the end. You have to be a hooligan to deal with hooligans." With corruption and abuse of power at record levels, China needs more hooligans like Lu Yuegang.

T.M.

Write to TIME at mail@web.timeasia.com

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