Jane Austen Museum to Address Ties to Slavery

Austen’s novels are about a narrow, upper class of British society and are set in picturesque villages, mostly cut off from the troubles of the outside world. “Jane Austen is now on a pedestal as an expression of something delightful, comforting, beautiful, clever,” said Paula Marantz Cohen, an English professor and the dean of the honor’s college at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Many of her fans, she said, want to relish her stories about a simpler time and place.

Some Austen scholars say passages in her novels “Emma” and “Mansfield Park” suggested that she supported abolitionism, but others say that is unclear. Few of her letters survived. But her favorite authors — Samuel Johnson, Thomas Clarkson and William Cowper — were abolitionists. Still, like almost all English families of any means in the 18th century, her family had ties to the slave trade, according to “Jane Austen: A Life,” a book by Claire Tomalin.

In addressing the topic of slavery, Sherard Cowper Coles, the president of the Jane Austen Society, said, “This is England’s story, and as our understanding increases, we should tell it and update it.”

But Mr. Cowper Coles, a former diplomat who was Britain’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2009-10, cautioned: “Expecting people to have consciousness outside of their time is not fair. But equally, in our time, we are aware of slavery, we’re living with its consequences in Minneapolis and many other places.”

Frances Brook, a tour guide in England who has led groups to Austen sites, said that she was in favor of the museum presenting more context about Austen’s time, but that condemning her for wearing cotton and taking sugar in her tea would amount to “woke-ism gone a little too far.” Like the rest of us, Austen did things in her everyday life that conflicted with her broader views about the world, said Ms. Brook, who last visited the museum in 2017.

Prof. Johnson of Princeton said that the museum’s attempt to add context to Austen’s life would not quell readers’ enthusiasm for her.

“Just because you involve Austen in the messiness of history doesn’t mean you don’t love her,” she said.

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South Korean Court Sides With Japan in Wartime Sexual Slavery Case

SEOUL — A judge in South Korea ruled on Wednesday that Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japan during World War II cannot seek compensation from the Japanese government in a South Korean court, a decision that angered survivors and contradicted an earlier ruling in January.

In the earlier verdict, the presiding judge ordered the Japanese government to pay 100 million won ($89,400) each to 12 former Korean sex slaves, known as “comfort women.”

The two different decisions by two different judges in the Seoul Central District Court complicated the survivors’ decades-long effort to hold the Japanese government legally accountable for wartime sexual slavery. The two rulings also showed that the South Korean judiciary was divided over Japan’s claim that international law shielded it from lawsuits in foreign courts.

In January, the South Korean judge ruled that the Japanese government should be subject to Korean jurisdiction because the experience of Korean sex slaves involved “anti-humanity acts systematically planned and perpetrated by the Japanese Empire.” For such acts, Japan cannot claim exemption from a lawsuit in South Korea based on state sovereignty, he said.

2015 agreement, which South Korea and Japan called “final and irreversible,” permanently settled the long-running dispute over comfort women. Previously, in a 1993 statement, Japan issued a formal apology for the practice.

On Wednesday, a different South Korean judge, Min Seong-cheol, sided with Japan and threw out the lawsuit filed by a separate group of former sex slaves. If courts start making exceptions to the principle of national sovereignty, “diplomatic clashes become inevitable,” the judge said in his ruling. Mr. Min also cited the 2015 agreement, under which Japan acknowledged responsibility for its actions, apologized anew to the women and set up an $8.3 million fund to help provide old-age care for survivors.

Some of the surviving women have accepted payments from the 2015 fund. Others rejected the agreement, saying that it failed to specify Japan’s “legal” responsibility or to provide official reparations. The lawsuit thrown out on Wednesday was filed in 2016 by 20 plaintiffs, including 11 former sex slaves. Only four of the 11 are still alive, and all of them are in their 80s or 90s.

Neither the ruling in January nor the one on Wednesday is the final say on the matter. The plaintiffs in the second lawsuit said they would seek the opinion of higher courts by appealing Wednesday’s decision.

“It will go down in history as a shameful case where the judge shirked his duty as a last bastion of human rights,” said an advocacy group in Seoul that speaks for the women who filed the lawsuit. Lee Yong-soo, a former sex slave who joined the lawsuit, accused the judge of denying the victims “the right to seek judgment on war crimes and anti-humanity crimes,” according to a statement from her spokeswoman. Ms. Lee also demanded that both governments ask the International Court of Justice to rule on the case.

“Comfort women” is the euphemism Japan adopted for the nearly 200,000 young women — many of them Korean — who were forced or lured into working in brothels run by the Japanese military before and during World War II. Over the last 30 years, survivors from South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, China and the Netherlands have filed a total of 10 lawsuits against the Japanese government in Japanese courts, according to Amnesty International.

The survivors lost in all of those cases before winning their case in the South Korean court in January.

“What was a landmark victory for the survivors after an overly long wait is again now being called into question,” Arnold Fang, researcher for East Asia at Amnesty International, said in criticizing Wednesday’s court decision. “More than 70 years have passed since the end of World War II, and we cannot overstate the urgency for the Japanese government to stop depriving these survivors of their rights to full reparation and to provide an effective remedy within their lifetimes.”

In Tokyo, Katsunobu Kato, chief cabinet secretary to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, said the Japanese government planned to review the ruling in detail before commenting on it. He added that his government could not answer whether the new decision reflected a change in South Korea’s stance on the issue, but that “Japan’s attitude doesn’t change at all.”

Washington has urged Seoul and Tokyo to improve ties so that the allies can work more closely to address North Korea’s nuclear threat and China’s growing military influence in the region. For years, Japan and South Korea have locked horns over comfort women and other historical issues stemming from Japan’s colonial rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945.

Tokyo insisted that all claims arising from its colonial rule, including those involving sexually enslaved women, had been settled by the 1965 treaty that established diplomatic relations between the two nations, as well as the 2015 comfort women agreement. Under the 1965 agreement, Japan provided South Korea with $500 million in aid and affordable loans.

The South Korean government did not immediately comment on Wednesday’s court ruling. But during a forum in Seoul on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said that, although his government had not abandoned the 2015 deal, the victims and their demands must be “at the center” of any effort to resolve the issue.

Hisako Ueno contributed reporting from Tokyo.

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How China’s Outrage Machine Kicked Up a Storm Over H&M

When the Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M said in September that it was ending its relationship with a Chinese supplier accused of using forced labor, a few Chinese social media accounts dedicated to the textile industry took note. But by and large, the moment passed without fanfare.

Half a year later, Beijing’s online outrage machine sprang into action. This time, its wrath was unsparing.

The Communist Party’s youth wing denounced H&M on social media and posted an archival photo of slaves on a Mississippi cotton plantation. Official news outlets piled on with their own indignant memes and hashtags. Patriotic web users carried the message across far and varied corners of the Chinese internet.

Within hours, a tsunami of nationalist fury was crashing down upon H&M, Nike, Uniqlo and other international clothing brands, becoming the latest eruption over China’s policies in its western region of Xinjiang, a major cotton producer.

sanctions imposed on Chinese officials last week by the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada in connection to Xinjiang. China has placed hundreds of thousands of the region’s Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in indoctrination camps and used harsh methods to push them into jobs with factories and other employers.

“The hate-fest part is not sophisticated; it’s the same logic they’ve followed going back decades,” said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and the founder of China Digital Times, a website that tracks Chinese internet controls. But “their ability to control it is getting better,” he said.

“They know how to light up those ultra-pro-government, nationalist users,” Mr. Xiao continued. “They’re getting very good at it. They know exactly what to do.”

rejected the notion that Beijing had led the boycott campaign against H&M and the other brands.

“These foreign companies refuse to use Xinjiang cotton purely on the basis of lies,” Mr. Zhao said at a news briefing. “Of course this will trigger the Chinese people’s dislike and anger. Does the government even need to incite and guide this?”

After the Communist Youth League ignited the outrage on Wednesday, other government-backed groups and state news outlets fanned the flames.

They posted memes proposing new meanings behind the letters H and M: mian hua (cotton), huang miu (ridiculous), mo hei (smears). The official Xinhua news agency posted an illustration depicting the Better Cotton Initiative, a group that had expressed concerns about forced labor in Xinjiang, as a blindfolded puppet controlled by two hands that were patterned like an American flag.

The buzz quickly drew notice at Beijing’s highest levels. On Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman held up a photo of slaves in American cotton fields during a news briefing.

shared a clip showing a worker removing an H&M sign from a mall. A user in Beijing who posts about television stars highlighted entertainers who had ended their contracts with Adidas and other targeted brands.

“Today’s China is not one that just anyone can bully!” he wrote to his nearly seven million followers. “We do not ask for trouble, but we are not afraid of trouble either.”

A fashion influencer named Wei Ya held a live video event on Friday hawking products made with Xinjiang cotton. In her Weibo post announcing the event, she made sure to tag the Communist Youth League.

By Monday, news sites were circulating a rap video that combined the cotton issue with some popular recent lines of attack on Western powers: “How can a country where 500,000 have died of Covid-19 claim the high ground?”

One Weibo user posted a lushly animated video that he said he had worked through the night to make. It shows white-hooded men pointing guns at Black cotton pickers and ends with a lynching.

“These are your foolish acts; we would never,” a caption reads.

Less than two hours after the user shared the video, it was reposted by Global Times, a party-controlled newspaper known for its nationalist tone.

Many web users who speak up during such campaigns are motivated by genuine patriotism, even if China’s government does pay some people to post party-line comments. Others, such as the traffic-hungry blog accounts derided in China as “marketing accounts,” are probably more pragmatic. They just want the clicks.

tests conducted by China Digital Times, internet platforms have been diligently controlling search results and comments related to Xinjiang and H&M since last week.

An article in Global Times urged readers to “resolutely criticize those like H&M that make deliberate provocations, but at the same time, stay rational and beware of pretend patriots joining the crowd to stir up hatred.”

The Communist Youth League has been at the forefront of optimizing party messages for viral engagement. Its influence is growing as more voices in society look for ways to show loyalty to Beijing, said Fang Kecheng, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communications at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

apologized for the “bad impact” her post had made.

“Don’t just support Xinjiang cotton, support Xinjiang people too!” another Weibo user wrote. “Support Xinjiang people walking the streets and not having their phone and ID checked.”

The post later vanished. Its author declined to comment, citing concerns for his safety. Weibo did not respond to a request for comment.

Lin Qiqing contributed research.

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