'Madame Butterfly' tale of sex a hot-sell

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 February, 2011, 12:00am

It is the story everyone wants to read but is proving hard to find.

The latest edition of Caijing magazine tells all about a woman who built a business empire through her affairs with senior provincial and central government officials.

The online version has been deleted from the magazine's website and some concerned news vendors were only selling it under the counter.

All that is doing though is increasing demand.

Public Crony, a 14-page report in the issue that appeared on Monday, tells the story of Li Wei , 48, a Vietnamese refugee who moved to Yunnan in 1970.

It tells how she used sex and business savvy to build up a business empire worth several billion yuan, investing in property development, petrol stations and sewage treatment plants.

Although the printed edition of the magazine has not been recalled, according to a Caijing reporter who spoke on condition of anonymity, the online version of the story on Caijing.com.cn was ordered to be removed on Tuesday - after other websites had done so on Monday.

Widely known in China as Madame Butterfly, Li's romantic and business entanglements have implicated several high-ranking central government and provincial officials.

Chen Tonghai, former president of Sinopec, one of the mainland's largest oil companies, and Du Shicheng, former Communist Party secretary of Qingdao, Shandong, were handed down harsh prison sentences for corruption as a direct result of Li's arrest in 2006.

Other officials - including a former finance minister, a senior official involved in foreign affairs and a former head of the Ministry of State Security - were forced to retire because of their links to her.

According to the magazine, Li was also closely involved with other former high-ranking central government officials who were later jailed for corruption incidents unrelated to Li's case.

They included Li Jiating, former governor of Yunnan, with whom the report said she had an 'intimate relationship', and Zheng Shaodong, former assistant-minister of public security, who provided identity papers for her.

It is interesting to note that while her lovers and protectors are still languishing in jail, Li was recently released from prison.

It remained unclear how long she was jailed for as there was no press report of her trial. Her tale, which has previously been the talk of the nation when her name came up in so many corruption trials, became embarrassing to the mainland leadership, which suppressed press mention of her exploits.

The story has been widely circulated on microblog services, including the popular Sina Weibo and Twitter.

One internet user said it had given him for the first time a vivid picture about how capitalists used their connections to establish power.

One newsstand owner in the Jingan district of Shanghai said he was ordered to hide the magazine.

Two news vendors said sales went up yesterday compared with Wednesday.

Mainland reporters circulated a warning from the Hubei propaganda reviewing team criticising three newspapers in the province - the Changjiang Daily, the Chutian Golden Newspaper and the Wuhan Evening News - which published the whole Caijing story on Tuesday.

The warning said the newspapers 'seriously violated the propaganda disciplines set by the central and provincial propaganda departments'.

Ye Du, a Guangzhou-based media analyst, said it was surprising that authorities had not recalled the magazine.

'Usually it is very hard for stories criticising senior officials or revealing their private lives to reach print; if they do, the publications receive very severe punishments.'

Additional reporting by Laura Zhou, Alice Yan and Fiona Tam