Membership has its privileges, especially when it comes to the Chinese Communist Party. The state-controlled media likes to publicise the downfall of corrupt officials as a warning to others. But being convicted of corruption and sent to jail does not necessarily mean the end of a comfortable lifestyle.
Residents in Jiangsu and Guangdong have been treated to what has been dubbed 'the luxury prisons scandal', jailhouses used especially to cage senior cadres who run afoul of party authorities. If their imprisonment is meant to placate popular anger about rampant corruption, the conditions in which many are jailed have, predictably, fuelled more outrage.
The scandal only broke recently, but it is clear such five-star prisons have existed for some time. Inside, cadres have full access to a telephone, internet and faxes; gourmet food is featured on the menu; money is readily available; and prison guards function like personal servants. Some enjoy private offices; others play golf. Such preferential treatment sends an unmistakable message that there are, on one side, the masses and on the other, the party aristocracy, whose privileges cannot be denied even when in disgrace.
Speaking of red aristocracy, it seems some communist princelings and princesses really see themselves as aristocrats. It has now become something of a tradition for the teenage daughters of some of the mainland's wealthiest and most powerful families to make their introduction to the international jet-set at Paris' annual debutantes' ball in the De Crillon Hotel, a tradition that predates the French Revolution. Among this year's debutantes will be Jasmin Li, 17, granddaughter of Jia Qinglin, No4 in the party.
The central government has made headway in cracking down on official corruption and introduced measures such as asset declaration and promotion curbs on officials whose families have emigrated overseas. But the flaunting of wealth and privilege by the children of party leaders undermines such efforts and the party's legitimacy.