Taiwan: Blogger fined $7K, jailed for 30 days over negative noodle review


(Photo: a delicious plate of noodles in Toronto by John Elmslie, contributed to the Boing Boing Flickr Pool.)

A court in Taiwan this week ruled against a female food-blogger who said a local restaurant's beef noodles "were too salty," and that she'd seen cockroaches scurrying around in the restaurant. She gets 30 days in detention, two years of probation, and must pay 200,000 Taiwanese dollars (about $7K US dollars) in compensation to the restaurant. The court didn't argue she was lying about the bugs, but ruled that "Ms. Liu should not have criticized all the restaurant's food as too salty because she only had one dish on her single visit."

From the Taipei Times:

After visiting a Taichung beef noodle restaurant in July 2008, where she had dried noodles and side dishes, Liu wrote that the restaurant served food that was too salty, the place was unsanitary because there were cockroaches and that the owner was a "bully" because he let customers park their cars haphazardly, leading to traffic jams.

The restaurant owner, who sounds like a total dick (I can say this because I'm not in Taiwan!), said "he hoped the case would teach her a lesson."

Again, from the Taipei Times:

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.

(via LA Weekly)


  1. I’m sure some restaurants with poor Yelp reviews would love it if this were the way the laws in the US worked.

  2. As a chef/restauteur I feel like that sentence was a little light. Five to seven years hard labor seems about right.

    I kid, but sites like yelp have made the food business much more annoying. Even very good, clean and conscientiously run restaurants have to live with people writing all kinds of falsehoods about their establishments. There’s a vein of self-importance and snottiness to the sort of people who feel the need to publicly voice their opinion about restaurants online. You serve 2,000 meals in a week, and inevitably, the one tenth of a percent you drop the ball on (over salted, food took too long, forgot to bring a steak knife, whatever) are the ones that feel the need to take to the internets. If only the other 1,998 happy diners could do the same.

      1. Wowing them, maybe. But most restaurants don’t *wow* me, nor would I want them to. Most meals I just want a decent meal, reasonably priced, and served promptly. I suppose I could write positive Yelp reviews of restaurants that manage that, but they would be pretty boring. Most people who write reviewers do so to complain.

        1. “Most people who write reviewers do so to complain.”

          Citation needed for blanket assertion.

        2. Most meals I just want a decent meal, reasonably priced, and served promptly. I suppose I could write positive Yelp reviews of restaurants that manage that, but they would be pretty boring.

          If a restaurant consistently cooks my hamburger to order, gets it on the table in a timely fashion and charges reasonably, that’s a wow for me. I would find that kind of review more useful than whether or not the breast of pheasant en crépine was rubbery.

          If I have a good meal, I tell everyone that I know to eat there, because it’s in my self-interest to make sure that a good restaurant stays open. I hate it when I find a great place to eat and it closes for lack of business, which is incredibly common here in Disney Arrakis. Seasonal tee-shirt tourists and rich centenarians are not a good economic base for a vigorous restaurant culture.

    1. I understand your point of view, but most of the time a simple “how is your meal? Can i get you anything?” would solve most of these problems. My dad is a sandwich chain franchise owner and even though his customers are spending $7-12 on their meals, he is always checking to make sure each one leaves happy (and training his staff to do the same.)

    2. I do some marketing/advertising work for local hotels, and it’s the same deal. For every 999 satisfied customers, there’s 1 who didn’t get what they want and drop negative reviews on every website available to them. Can’t really win. The fun begins when new or returning customers feel the need to inform staff that there are crummy reviews online. I guess they don’t think we already know.

      But yeah… five to seven years hard labour would be nice…

    3. I can usually sniff out a bs review on a site. If you have 1 or 2 people out of 20 who are wildly different then you have to wonder if they have an axe to grind or something is wrong with them (hypersensitive maybe?). Same goes for one that is wildly positive or written in marketing-speak, e.g. “They have something for the whole family!”.

      I find reviews on places like Newegg to be particularly annoying because half the time they comment on the shipping which has nothing to do with the product.

    4. Well, you can be comforted to know that if you fundamentally object to the freedom of speech and prefer to replace it with the freedom to not be annoyed you can move your restaurant to Taiwan.

    5. With all due respect, I could not care less if you served 2000 fine dishes before mine.

      If mine sucks, people will know about it.

      If you can’t stand the heat then, you know (or should know) what to do…

    6. Don’t worry magneticwheels – every restaurant gets the same mixed bag of reviews. The key is to have better aggregate comments. Whenever I read a yelp review I filter out the obligatory ones. For instance every restaurant on earth has a review about a rude server.

    7. One thing to note is that as people actually utilize these online reviews, they also learn to read them, not just take one bad review for gospel and ban your restaurant. But we are in the shitty days of stupid internet people and uses so…

  3. Just canceled my trip to Taiwan.
    On a side note, Did you know that Heineken contains too much sugar?

    1. Seconding that- I can’t imagine ever reading a post about a “male food-blogger.” The pronouns should’ve taken care of her gender for anyone curious about it.

    2. Maybe it doesn’t apply but is it possible that some discrimination is involved? Would the punishment be more/less if it was a male blogger? Seems worth looking into.

      1. I am a woman. I wrote this blog post. Some of the details about the case, and about the tone used by the restaurant owner and by the court in addressing the blogger seemed demeaning in a way that other women might recognize as familiar and gender-specific. The gender of the individual, given cultural context and those details, seemed relevant. Also might not be obvious to casual skimmers who are not familiar with Chinese names that the individual involved was female.

        1. Xeni,
          I didn’t see anything gender-specific or familiar in the Taipei Times article or in the words of the restauranteur, and I’m a female reader. Have you been following this story elsewhere?

          “Blogger needs to learn a lesson about the dangers of slander.” That’s what I see the restauranteur saying.

          She called him a bully for letting people park haphazardly.
          Think about that. How does letting people do what they like on the street make someone a bully? (And without knowing the words in Chinese it’s hard to judge how over / under the top that might be to say.

          I am all for freedom of expression. BUT, people can’t just post lies and falsehoods that harm others with impunity. Female, Male, or Other.

          1. taj in reply to Xeni Jardin

            I didn’t see anything gender-specific or familiar in the Taipei Times article or in the words of the restauranteur, and I’m a female reader. Have you been following this story elsewhere?

            “Blogger needs to learn a lesson about the dangers of slander.” That’s what I see the restauranteur saying.

            I agree with taj here. The WAJAB (We Are Just A Blog) defense, used by many prominent blogs often (ahem!), is very weak sauce indeed.

            Something to think about: Let’s see what happens when one of the alleged Vancouver rioters identified by the online-justice-mob commits self-injury (or worse).

    3. They used the adjective “female” to better identify the blogger without identifying her. I live in Taiwan and can guess pretty closely who she may be. If they’d omitted the “female” we’d be in the dark.

  4. There’s a lot of opposition to free speech in many parts of the world. To prove libel in America you have to show that what was written was false. If the defense lawyers had the jury eat at the salty noodle restaurant, the blogger might have won the case. The money the mean salty noodle restaurant owner saved on pest control and a decent cook apparently paid for a better lawyer than the food blogger could afford.

    1. To prove libel in America you have to show that what was written was false.

      Yes, and in some cases you have to prove more than that: In the first instance, you’re right in that truth is a defense against libel in the US, as established in the trial of John Peter Zenger in 1735 (NB: before the United States existed). This was a landmark ruling in libel. Until then the law was basically what we have now with DCMA take-downs: the accusation is sufficient to reach a guilty verdict.

      But this has since been broadened in the case of public officials in the US: reporters are protected from libel even if what they write is false if it cannot be proved that they were acting out of malice. See, e.g., New York Times Co. v. Sullivan

      Another important aspect in US defamation law is the plaintiff must show the his reputation was harmed (see above link).

      Of course, it’s important to remember that this is the US I’m talking about (with whose media laws I’m most familiar). In the US, obviously, a finding of fact would be needed before a ruling of defamation (and the courts would pretty much be disposed to viewing “too salty” as a protected opinion).

  5. Also, seriously, bitching about bad reviews is some sour grapes. Try to suck less. Nobody is gonna not eat somewhere because three of the 57 reviews gave it 1 star. But when it’s twenty of them, and another twenty say it’s just okay, it’s a lot more likely that your restaurant just isn’t that good.

    Seriously. Suck less. Because I’ll say whatever i goddamn please, and I will say nice things about restaurants I like.

  6. Restaurant now renamed as ‘Tumblweed’ hopefully. Oh no, I forgotted freedom of speech and stuffs.

    @magneticwheels. I understand what you’re saying, but to be fined for giving an opinion, however biased (this one seems not to be, just a statement of fact) is despicable. The message seems to be ‘Take what we give you, be happy you get it’. This is the EXACT opposite of what I love about America, though I live in the UK, customer service.

    Any business, no matter what it is, that has to rely on the courts to protect its reputation is doomed. And any court that would consider persecuting a customer is plain insane. WTF? Really? Why not give the reviewer jail-time, just so she gets the message?

    Is there a web-site where anyone post reviews? That may make the owners life interesting until he begins selling matches on the street corner.

  7. Looks like Taiwan is seeking a little authoritarian cuddle-in with the PRC – re-unification on its way! ‘How shall we share the Spratleys darling? Of course I don’t mind if you falsify charges on artists – may I brutally suppress the rural masses again? Pass the salt, there’s a dear. Oh, did you say you’d run out of the CS, or is it my memory again? I never know any more, oh well!’

    ‘World infamous’

  8. Because people are much more likely to go to restaurants that will THROW YOU IN JAIL than they are to go to restaurants that use a little too much salt.

    Guess she was right about the “bully” thing.

  9. I’ve given good word-of-mouth recommendations for restaurants I’ve liked. I’ve cut those places slack when I get the occasional mediocre meal from them; anyone can have an off day. If a restaurant really sucks, I simply don’t eat there (again).

    Granted, if not for the cockroaches, the reviewer should have gone there at least twice to make certain she just hadn’t caught them on an off day. But for someone to go to jail and get fined the price of a decent used car just for expressing a legitimate opinion is flat-out barbaric, and a good part of the reason why people flee certain countries even if it means becoming an illegal immigrant elsewhere.

  10. The first thing that came to mind when I read is was how close was the restaurant owner to the judge.

  11. Didn’t realize Taiwan was that backwards and authoritarian. Wow…. Hope ultimately they don’t like the bad PR this generates, and things will change for the better.

  12. Reader Beware. Whose movie reviews are you gonna pay more attention to: Anthony Lane’s or some blogger named Angela. I mean, really. No different with restaurant recommendations.

  13. Maybe it’s just me, but the terms ‘food blogger’, ‘food blogging’ – these are not appetizing terms, at least as to how they sound.

    Back OT, what has happened to this food critic really boils my potatoes,
    cuts my cabbage, and jerks my beef.

    An outrage!

  14. One can get a pretty good consensus from Yelp reviews. You play the averages…throw out the glowing praises and the extreme negative reviews…and you get a nice middle that will help you make a good decision on whether the business is worth giving money to.

    Usually though, I’d still give a restaurant a try despite negative reviews if the food sounds good enough.

  15. 20,000 twd is more than 2000 meals in taiwan. i hope the owner does not see any of this money that she was fined.

  16. Christ, what a…those noodles do look delicious don’t they?

    The beef noodles served by the Taiwanese bully in question however contain sinew from lab macaques and cadaver drippings…

    I read it on the internet somewhere. . .

  17. The blogger’s jail sentence will most likely not be served if she “behaves” for two years of probation. But still, Taiwan’s “public insult” law really is an international embarrassment and a black eye for a nation that prides itself on being a democracy. People can successfully sue you for so much as a rude hand gesture made in traffic, citing “public defamation.” The system remains for cultural reasons: many people actually agree with it and that people should restrict what they say to avoid negatively affecting anyone or anything. And judges here don’t have training as lawyers; all they have to do is get out of college and pass a test.

    Give a restaurant a good review, however, and watch the people lining up, oblivious to the double standard. This is part of the reason there are no genuine review establishments such as Michelin in Taiwan; they’d be sued out of the country. This may also be why Taiwan’s movie industry has been stagnant for so long. In fact, there are many serious repercussions originating from this aspect of Taiwanese law/custom. Each incident that comes to light spreads on the Internet, beyond the borders where the judge has no authority, and impacts Taiwan’s international image.

  18. I think a campaign to make this known as “the world’s worst restaurant” is in order. Sounds like a job for anon. theworstrestaurantintheworld.tumblr.com, anyone?

    1. I’d guess that’s just the Taipei Times being too literal/lazy in their translation/editing of the original Chinese-language story.

    2. For that matter, why are people who write online called “bloggers” but people who write for print publications are called “writers?” I say we call them all “writers” and level the playing field, lest they become defined by their media.

  19. Taiwan’s judges don’t have to be practising lawyers or have any kind of law school degree whatsoever to get their jobs. They simply need to pass an (allegedly difficult) exam. That is why they often seem to have next to no sense of justice. Take for example, the case of the judge in Taiwan who ruled that a three-year girl who did not indicate her unwillingness to participate in sex (perhaps because she was only three) hence could not have been raped.


  20. Didn’t she know that for a customer to be paying good money for inferior food, service, or anything in Asia (EXCEPT in Japan) is really a privilege? How dare she criticized haphazard parking, salty food, and physically active cockroaches! It’s not an exception, but the rules. It’s a Chinese culture to accept being mistreated by business owners.

  21. I have had the privilege of visiting Taiwan several times.

    Go to the Taipei Night Markets and there are more cockroaches than you can shake a stick at. Because… Get ready for it… that’s what happens when you open an eatery near the equator on a beautiful island.

    Why the poor blogger is getting such a smack-down though, I have no idea. Roaches are far from rare in this part of the world.

    1. Nonsense.

      That is what happens when you are not handling the food in a hygenic way, it has nothing to do with your geographical location.

  22. In regards to the gender thing. My first thought was ‘they would probably not have jailed a male blogger’ (but then again, never been to Taiwan, what do I know)

    As to the whole ‘everyone’s a critic’ movement. I like what tripadvisor now has introduced, basically a rating of the raters, I was once stuck in a hotel in Pamukkale with tons of great reviews, but later found that they were all from ‘people’ who only ever wrote ONE review … later I found in that hotel that the youngsters there were online all night, creating new online personas and write reviews (at the same time bashing neighboring hotels)

    One more thing … I have also heard from 2 small upstart hotels that they have been basically blackmailed by guests ‘give me discount, or you will find bad words on booking.com … ‘

    sigh … and NOW i want to have those noodles and that beer !!!

    (Can someone sneak in a sticker among their ‘accepted cards’ display saying ‘as featured on BB’ ? :D

  23. She ate food in the restaurant that she thought was too salty, therefore her statement was true.

    If the dish you order is over salted then and you only order one dish then 100% of your order is over salted. As a food reviewer you have to base your reviews on your findings and draw conclusions.

    You can’t expect a reviewer to eat at your restaurant three times a day for a week so they can gather enough data to write a balanced critique on your establishment. So you take the rough with the smooth.

    That’s why restaurant owners fear food critics, because they only try one or two things and then make generalisations on the rest.
    It’s good to know for the customer, because over salted food is bad for your heart and dehydrates you.

    Blog reviews should not worry restauranteurs though, because they will inevitably effect the whole market so it’s still a level playing field and I don’t think people will eat out less in general as a result.

    I’ve never been to Taiwan, but these are disturbing reports.

    1. “That’s why restaurant owners fear food critics, because they only try one or two things and then make generalisations on the rest.”

      Uh, no. They fear food critics because their voices are backed by professional experience, often appear in publications with large audiences, and often have followings of people who take their food seriously.

      Many, if not most, professional food critics visit a restaurant at least a few times, and try several items on the menu. Frank Bruni, the former NY Times critic, often went with friends and made everyone order different things so he could try many dishes at once.

      I’ve never read a review where a critic ate only one dish and made comment on another. Critics describe the dishes THEY eat. The generalizations would come from the quality of service, which they can only experience on a handful of days.

  24. Had considered visiting Taiwan at some point, but this has changed my mind.
    More time in Hongkong and the Phillipines I guess.

  25. I was reading about it on Taiwanese websites. Interestingly, neither the original blog post nor the judge said anything about “being too salty.” I guess it’s the journalist’s opinion….

  26. Moul: “If the dish you order is over salted then and you only order one dish then 100% of your order is over salted.”

    Fair and factual. But what did this blogger actually write?

    I’d generally recommend against getting your knickers in full twist or canceling travel plans based on one wee article in a newspaper. The blogger MUST have said more than, “the food is salty.” There’s a whole trials worth of information that we don’t have.

  27. Okay. I mentioned this to my wife, who is Taiwanese, and I also lived in Taiwan for a couple of years, and this doesn’t really fit with my experience of that country. When I mentioned this article to her she said that she had read about this very same case on a Chinese-language news website a few months before, and the story reported there is substantially different from this one: the woman was sentenced, apparently, for scamming restaurants. She made a habit of going into lots of them, then making unbased complaints in order to get her meal for free.

    1. Thanks garygibson for making some sense out of yet another otherwise commentary episode on BBC (Bash Backwards Chinese).

  28. Since she did not order anything after the noodles, it is only fitting that she got her Just Desserts. ;)

  29. Xeni the Kettle says:

    The restaurant owner, who sounds like a total dick (I can say this because I’m not in Taiwan!), said “he hoped the case would teach her a lesson.”

    Xeni The Pot says:

    Some of the details about the case, and about the tone used by the restaurant owner and by the court in addressing the blogger seemed demeaning in a way that other women might recognize as familiar and gender-specific.

    Yes, in a way, the kettle is black! :)

  30. What’s really baffling about this is, how do you get 500ml of beer out of a 330ml Heineken bottle?

  31. Sorry to be “that guy,” but the photo looks like Cantonese chicken-and-vegetable chow mein, not Taiwanese beef noodles.

  32. You might be interested to know that in Australia a scathing restaurant review was held to be defamatory too:


    However this is a civil tort and only leads to damages, not imprisonment(!).

    As an aside, I would like Asia-philes to remember this sort of stuff when preaching to the rest of us about what a dynamic, exciting place Asia is artistically/culturally/culinarily/whateverly.

    1. Was that article written by a robot? That is the most bizarre grammar and syntax that I’ve seen outside of a technical journal.

  33. Antinous – it’s a consequence of our contempt of court laws in Australia (and Britain, and other common law countries) and our lack of a positive free speech right. The media is permitted to report anything said in open court unless a suppression order is made, but what they report must be a “fair and accurate” report of the proceedings. Hence they adopt an artificially neutral tone and deliver the reporting without inflection. Articles like that are often vetted by lawyers before publication, especially in connection with defamation actions and the like.

    1. And it’s weird, at least from a US point of view, because it sort of makes everyone a party to every legal case.

  34. In Anglo-Australian defamation law to succeed in a claim you must have a publication (e.g. a restaurant review) which conveys defamatory imputations (i.e. meanings) to an audience and which is not justified (substantially true). So the phrase is just picking up the legal principles. Odd for a newspaper article, to be sure, but its the “fair and accurate” principle in action – the safest way to be “fair and accurate” is to use the same language used in the courtroom.

    The idea is that open justice is the norm – anyone can see everything that happens in court – but that this is counterbalanced by a requirement that anything you publish about what you see must be accurate. So you don’t get, say, a person being accused of rape and then the newspapers only reporting the adverse allegations but not the matters put forward which might exonerate them. Sort of an enforced media responsibility. I know that is quite an alien idea from a US perspective though – again it comes back to a lack of positive free speech rights.

  35. I don’t understand why the owner should object to the review. Most restaurant food is too salty…that’s what customers like and why they eat out. As for the cockerroaches on the wall, they are better seen than hidden.

  36. Note that this was not prosecuted under existing libel law, but under a new criminal law that was introduced last year to clamp down on what the government termed ‘bullying’ on the internet. This was pitched to the public as a way to prevent teenagers from taking the high school warfare online but the wording of the law makes it clear that the intent is to protect government figures from online criticism. It was widely feared at the time this was the beginning of a clampdown on internet free speech and a new age of censorship.
    As background, Taiwan’s international ranking in press freedom has been slipping steadily since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) returned to power in 2008. During their previous reign all printed material had to be approved by the Government Information Office, meaning opposition parties had to submit all pamphlets and campaign material to them before printing or risk imprisonment. This law was introduced at the start of a 40-year period of marshal law, and lived on in ’emergency laws’ that were introduced when marshal law was lifted back in 1986 or so. It was only overturned in the last years of their rule, when opposition parties were legalized and free elections were allowed.
    KMT’s return to power in ’08 was marked by a switch in government policy to invite annexation (they call it ‘reunification’, even though Taiwan has never been completely under Chinese rule) by the People’s Republic of China, which as we all know is very well versed on suppression of free speech in all areas, but especially online. At the same time KMT has continuously attempted to regain control of news and media outlets which were made independent during the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) administration, by forcing watchdog groups on them and then loading those groups with their own goons.
    It’s widely feared that this first blogger case, plus the second case which followed a week later, are merely test cases to cement the idea that bloggers can be prosecuted merely for stating their opinions, on any topic.

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