Wen Jiabao

Discussions of Wen Jiabao's daughter censored in China as more foreign media sites blocked

While censors in the mainland have been quick to strike down any discussion of 'Lily Chang', both the Chinese language websites of Reuters and The Wall Street Journal have appeared to be blocked in the mainland

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 November, 2013, 1:18pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 4:44pm

“Who is Lily Chang?” the same question has been repeated again and again on China’s social media since Thursday morning. Yet even without mentioning Wen Ruchun, which according to the New York Times is the real name of the the woman in question and daughter of China’s former prime minister Wen Jiabao, most microbloggers have seen their posts censored within minutes.

On Thursday The New York Times revealed investment bank JPMorgan’s ties with a consulting firm run by Wen Ruchun or ‘Lily Chang,’ an alias she was reported to have adopted.

Both The New York TimesEnglish and Chinese language websites have been blocked in China for more than a year, since the Times published a series of articles examining the assets of Wen Jiabao's family members. The publication’s recently-launched Chinese-language site for T Magazine, its culture and lifestyle publication, also appeared to be inaccessible in mainland China for two days this week.

Craig Smith, the China managing director of the New York Times, told the South China Morning Post in an email sent on Friday evening that the Chinese-language site for T Magazine  was unavailable for 48 hours due to technical problems.  "We are back up, and our problems had nothing to do with those affecting Reuters or WSJ's Chinese sites," he said.

As of Friday morning, both the Chinese language websites of Reuters and  The Wall Street Journal appeared to be blocked in the mainland, according to users in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu. The Chinese website of Reuters could still be accessed from its mobile app, according to users. When reached by phone, editors at the Beijing bureaus of the two organisations declined to comment. Nor would they confirm that their websites had been blocked. 

It is unclear if the blocking of these foreign media websites are related to recent stories they have written about Chinese politics, or just part of stepped-up censorship efforts in recent months. 

The South China Morning Post's English and Chinese language websites have also been occasionally blocked in China. In the latest instance, the Chinese-language site, SCMPChinese.com, has been inaccessible in mainland China for almost two weeks.  

Meanwhile, China’s internet users quickly began discussions about the business led by ‘Lily Chang’ and how she managed to get ahead by using a double identity – a stunt many would have found practically impossible and legally problematic in China.

According to the Times’ report, JPMorgan contracted a little-known consulting firm run by Wen Ruchun to secure deals with state-owned Chinese companies. The bank paid Wen’s firm US$900,000 annually from 2006 to 2008 – a total of US$1.8 million, said the report.

It was not entirely clear why Wen Ruchun had adopted the alias "Lily Chang." Chang is a common Chinese surname, but it could also be an alternative form of English spelling for the widely used Chinese last name Zhang, often used by Taiwanese or overseas Chinese. 

Zhang is the surname of Wen Jiabao’s wife, Zhang Peili, a geologist and a former vice-president of the Chinese Jewelry Association.

While her adopted surname matched that of her mother’s – with the Taiwanese spelling, ‘Lily,’ the English first name Wen Ruchun picked, seems to have partially reflected her mother’s given name, ‘Peili’.

Though adopting an alias to cover up a notable family background is believed to be common practise among the children of the elite, bloggers pointed out that forging ID documents is a crime under the law in China.

“Should our ‘sister house’ Gong Aiai be given her innocence back since ‘Lily Chang’ is also holding double identities?” wrote Guangzhou-based microblogger Li Tie. Li alludies to the case of Gong Aiai, a deputy bank chief in Shaanxi province who gained nationwide notoriety after she was accused of purchasing dozens of properties using false identities. In September Gong was sentenced to three years imprisonment for faking IDs.

“But if a second ID card is issued by government agencies [and not forged], it’s still considered legal,” Hou Jing, a Chengdu-based lawyer, pointed out to the South China Morning Post on Friday.

Other bloggers said they were shocked by the lucrative deal Ruchun’s two-man consulting firm received from JPMorgan.

“The most greedy family in China is that of ‘Lily Chang’,” one wrote.

Read other SCMP China Insider stories by Amy Li or follow her on Twitter