A picture showing a quake-zone official's wrist, with what appears to be the imprint of a watch, has gone viral online and left many internet users wondering whether the timepiece was intentionally removed in light of scandals involving corrupt officials caught wearing expensive watches.
Searches for the name Fan Jiyue, the party chief of Lushan county, under Yaan city in Sichuan , were blocked on the mainland's two most popular microblogging platforms - Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo - after eagle-eyed internet users pointed out the mark on his left wrist, leading to suspicions that it was made by a luxury watch.
Trending on Weibo: The same Ya An official with luxury watch and without luxury watch. twitter.com/MissXQ/status/… 
— XQ (@MissXQ) April 22, 2013 
In the picture released by China News Service on Saturday afternoon, Fan, wearing a white short-sleeved shirt, was seen standing beside Premier Li Keqiang amid concrete debris in Lushan, one of the areas worst-hit by Saturday's earthquake. Some internet activists even zoomed in on the photo to get a closer look at Fan's left trouser pocket, suspecting that it contained a watch.
Fan, 41, who was promoted to county party chief two years ago, quickly became the target of online searches that dug into his past, unearthing photos from various occasions, including a government meeting and a talk with local residents.
He was spotted wearing what some internet users speculated was a Vacheron Constantin worth more than 210,000 yuan (HK$261,000) - far more than someone could afford on the salary of a county-level party chief.
Since last year, several officials have come under fire after photos emerged showing them sporting expensive watches.
One official, Yang Dacai , chief of the Shaanxi provincial Work Safety Administration, was caught wearing more than 10 luxury watches on different occasions. He drew the ire of internet sleuths after being photographed smiling after a deadly traffic accident in August.
Yang was sacked a month later, and in February the Communist Party's anti-graft watchdog announced that his membership had been revoked and he was being prosecuted for graft.