Whistle-blower 'Huazong' becomes latest victim of online speech crackdown

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 September, 2013, 9:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 10:21am

Beijing police on Tuesday detained another outspoken online celebrity, a businessman-turned-whistle-blower, in an escalating campaign against the vibrant online community of government critics and influential liberal opinion leaders.

Chinese media reported that the 35-year-old businessman, writer and corruption whistle-blower who goes by the pen name of “Huazong” was taken away by police for questionging at the criminal police division of Chaoyang Police Department in Beijing on unknown criminal charges.

Huazong, short for "Secretary General of the Flower and Fruit Mountain" in Chinese, is a humourous reference to the Monkey King in the classic Ming-dynasty novel Journey to the West.

Several friends of Huazong, who declined to give their names or the real name of the writer, told the South China Morning Post that calls to the writer’s several phone numbers went unanswered starting at around noon on Tuesday.

Ouyang Kun, a businessman and self-claimed luxury industry expert who has had a bitter legal dispute with Huazong over the past few years, told the Post earlier that he was contacted by Beijing police who asked him to act as a witness against the suspect, Huazong, on Tuesday morning.

The police said that Huazong was detained on supicion of “distributing rumours online, blackmailing and extortion,” Ouyang told the Post.

According to Chinese media reports, Huazong has worked as a factory worker, teacher, marketer and a corporate executive in various industries.

He shot to fame in 2011 after he started blogging about luxury watches worn by government officials. Drawing on his knowledge of luxury goods, he found published pictures of many government officials online and identified the luxury watches on their wrists, down to every accurate detail, such as brand, model, year and market value.

Within a few years, Huazong had written about almost 100 officials and their expensive timepieces. Since the value of the watches far exceeded the legal income of those officials, many of them have come under investigation, been sacked or received prison terms for corruption.

Ironically, Yang Dacai, one of the officials that Huazong exposed, was sentenced less than two weeks ago to 14 years in prison after he was convicted of taking bribes and “owning a large amount of assets of unknown origin”.

It is unclear if Huazong’s detention is related to his whistle-blowing activities against officials with a soft spot for expensive watches. Huazong has also used his knowledge of luxury goods and industry in recent years to expose what he calls “frauds”, and published a series of influential satirical essays about luxury lifestyles.

Ouyang Kun, a shadowy businessman who claims to be the chief executive of several international luxury organisations, was briefly investigated by the authorities after Huazong accused him of faking his professional credentials, college degrees and affiliations with international organisations. He has threatened to take Huazong to court. He declined to say if his rival’s detention had anything to do with their previous disputes.