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  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 2:12pm
Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign
CommentInsight & Opinion

Why investigators spread titillating gossip about China's corrupt officials

Chang Ping says salacious details in graft cases are released to divert attention from real problems

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 3:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2014, 5:48pm

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Chinese Communist Party is rather concerned about whether government officials are in the habit of watching pornographic DVDs and, if they do, where they keep them.

Recently, the Inner Mongolia commission for discipline inspection accused the autonomous region's former deputy secretary general Wu Zhizhong of violating laws and discipline. Xinhua reported last month that Wu turned a room at his home into a hall for worship where he hid about 100 pornographic DVDs in a drawer under a Buddhist statute.

It wasn't as if Wu didn't have enough space to keep his DVDs as, according to reports, he owned 34 properties across the country and overseas. Investigators searching his premises found a bag holding nothing but keys. Reports also made a point of noting that he prayed every day. Whether he was devout or not, there seemed to be no need for him to be disrespectful to the Buddha. But keeping his DVDs under a Buddha statue is a key detail in the case as it highlights his hypocrisy.

In its crackdown on corruption, the government has highlighted the immorality of individuals to avoid touching on institutional problems such as the power hierarchy.

The government has been trying to convince people that corruption is rooted in degenerate lifestyles and spiritual bankruptcy. At the same time, it rejects the use of religion as a way to nurture the soul. Instead, Marxism is preached as the best way to improve self-discipline in order to "maintain inner purity".

Hence, the party's disciplinary commission sees exposing the moral degeneracy of corrupt officials as its mission. In addition to criminal activity, personal degeneracy, especially extramarital affairs, is what the commission focuses on and wants the public to know about.

After the case of Wang Lijun and Bo Xilai broke, the commission often used such phrases as "had developed and maintained abnormal sexual relationships with multiple females", which were derided by internet users.

More recently, the commission has started using the term tongjian, a feudal-era word for adultery. All corrupt officials have been accused of tongjian. The word highlights their immorality while playing down the fact that such relationships are a form of power abuse. That is why the commission focuses on whether officials are in the habit of watching pornographic DVDs.

Xinhua reports always carry the phrase "the reporters' investigation found that". In reality, reporters could not probe such cases on their own, as all information comes from one source - the disciplinary commission. The gossip-like details in their reports, such as "porn discs hidden under a Buddha statue" and "condoms or Viagra pills put inside a briefcase" are revealed at the discretion of disciplinary commission officers.

The disciplinary commission's job is really to use the media to badmouth corrupt officials. Had the state prosecutors been solely involved in investigating corrupt officials, the details of their sex scandals - inconsequential in building the prosecutors' case against them - wouldn't see the light of day.

Since almost everyone believes that corrupt officials are involved in inappropriate sexual affairs, the media do not bother to cite the disciplinary commission as the source of information in their stories. But one forgotten fact is that the commission is not only the source of information, but also a manipulator of public opinion.

One typical case is that of Wen Qiang, the former chief of the Chongqing public security bureau who was alleged to have hidden cash in a fish pond. This was an important case in Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun's joint fight against gangsters.

The investigation taskforce spread rumours that Wen had boasted that he could get all the actresses who had performed in Chongqing to sleep with him. Wen's wife was reportedly furious on hearing of this from investigators and immediately took them to a fish pond, where 20 million yuan in cash was found under the mud after the pond was drained. The notes, wrapped in waterproof sheets, were then shown at an anti-corruption exhibition staged by the Chongqing public security bureau.

But it was later found in court that it was the brother of Wen Qiang's wife who had hidden the cash and that it was not discovered in a fish pond. It was also found that most of the cash seized was in Hong Kong dollars. Details that previously spread via the press and circulated on the web, as well as the exhibits showcased, were fabricated by investigators to stir media interest and generate coverage.

I would not doubt that many corrupt officials are degenerate and morally bankrupt and that they have abused their power in exchange for sex. But we should not be blind to the efforts by discipline inspection officers to manipulate public opinion with scandalous details.

Chang Ping is a current affairs commentator writing on politics, society and culture. This commentary is translated from Chinese


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Outstanding article about Chinese corruption and subsequent investigatory process. It's all about manipulating public opinions; after-all, most corrupt officials were highly praised leaders in government or state enterprises prior to their fall from power. Often, their downfall hails from feudalistic political rivalry and not from the pursuit of justice. Only the rule of laws enforced openly through universal standards challengeable in public forums will improve this process.
Manipulate public opinion with scandalous details is nothing new, Leung Chun Ying could came to power because scandalous details of Henry Tang were released strategically at the critical time. Leung's were known to the public only after he was elected. And now to pave the ground for a hoax of " universal suffrage Chinese style ", scandalous details , engineered or not, of the pan democrats were released over the media to generate antipathy of the public against them.
In Mainland China, corrupt officials were corrupt only after they lost power., Every effort, by hook or by crook, is devoted to telling the public how corrupt these people are, the public never ask why these corrupt officials could do what they did.
Totally agree with Mr. Chang. Greatest outrage tends to be over financial impropriety and patronage. The incessant theft by those in charge, their abuse of power, and elevation of princelings, drives ordinary citizens mad. Chinese authorities know this so they choose to focus instead on the sex issues as it distracts people very well. They are trying to crack down on the other abuses as well, but behind the scenes, so as to not stir up ordinary citizens who may demand much wider disclosures of financial assets.
Agree 100%. I am not too sure if they would be concerned about stirring up a public demand for financial disclosure. There are just way too much "quanxi's" at play, and they are probably more concerned about how the boat is rocked.
Such is to divert attention from and to whom the corrupt official receives and dispenses bribe which are not shown as evidence of corruption and violation of law, but treated as "disciplinary" house-keeping and -cleaning matters.
Chinese culture could be summed up in the 3 "F"s: Face, Fortune, Family. It is historically obsessed with the acquisition of money. Besides corruption being endemic in the culture, at the root of official corruption in the last few decades is that Chinese government officials are not accountable to any independent oversight. They are certainly not subject to democratic elections where the people can vote them out of office if they are crooked or incompetent. Their survival or downfall is purely a matter of political whim at the option of those who wield greater force.
The Chinese always form factions, or if one likes, gangs. The current purges are almost certainly the symptoms of an internal power struggle in which Xi Jinping's faction is consolidating its hold over the levers of power. Once safely established it will be business as usual and the wheels of the offshore money laundering apparatus will grind once more to hide the corrupt wealth of Chinese officials who are ingratiated to the ruling gang.
The reason that China has not imploded is because of the continuous economic growth which has satisfied emergent middle classes who have been taught and threatened not to aspire to higher ideals. This cannot last in a system rotting from the inside.
wow, $20 million yuan hidden in a pond? **** discs hidden under a Buddha statute? Leaving side from the size of the cash amount, these are a pretty well thought out technique to conceal something. I wouldn't dare to drain a pond to look for hidden cash or look under a Buddha statute to look for some pornos. Given Mr. Wu's position within the power hierarchy, this could probably be classified as state secret ... I guess this really depends on who divulged the information.


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