Sex scandal shocks China as microbloggers wield the baton



Chongqing, a city of around 30 million in the southwest of China, is not getting its fill of scandals, it seems. The one involving the spectacular fall of Bo Xilai is still fresh in memory and in discussion. But the latest one involving the sex tapes of senior Party official Lei Zhengfu, ripe in his ‘50s, and his teenage mistress has kept the Chongqing scandal express chugging along.

The tapes that were leaked online by a journalist – he apparently got hold of the tapes from the city police – were five years old but revealed a murky, sleazy saga of sex, bribery and blackmail.

Lei was sacked as the district secretary of the Party last week but only after China’s microblogging circuits kept buzzing and buzzing with the video and angry, sarcastic opinions of net users.

The case details are classic: Li, who apparently had had enough of money as a bribe to award lucrative construction projects to developers, also liked to shower his largesse on young women.

So, the woman, according to Zhu Ruifeng who put up the video online, was hired by a construction company and was asked to befriend an unsuspecting Li. She was handed a spycam and asked to secretly film their trysts.

With the handy tool of blackmail, the company then planned to use it as a lever to, well, get more leverage from the official and bag more contracts.

The new scandal has shocked the Party, already reeling against the ripples of Bo’s scandal. And it again brought to the fore the power that China’s booming – if carefully censored – microbloggers have begun to wield.

Once blackmailed, Lei, the story goes, had complained to the then police chief of Chongqing, Wang Lijun – whose flight to an US consulate in February triggered the Bo scandal. Subsequently, the real estate developer and the girl in question were both jailed for a while.

“Internet is worth being embraced by the country’s corruption busters as a close ally,” state-run China Daily said in an editorial after details of the case were revealed.

But it also raised certain questions about the case. “Strangely, the mistress was once detained and the contractor jailed for blackmailing Lei,” it said. “What had happened? … These are crucial questions waiting to be answered.”

In the midst of all this, another debate also emerged: whether it was correct to reveal the identity of the girl involved in the case.

State-run Global Times questioned the move. “But investigative journalism at its core should be about exposing wrongdoing, rather than orchestrating it and then selling it to the public. Corruption certainly qualifies as being in the public interest, but sex tape stings that expose little more than adultery are difficult to justify given the intense scrutiny and shame that women in such cameos face. Chinese politics can be incredibly dull at times, but the public’s insatiable desire for voyeuristic news should not come at the cost of the future of a teenage mistress who, like all young people, might come to regret mistakes of her youth,” the newspaper said.

It’s quite possible that it might not be the end with Zhu saying that he still has five more sex videos – of five different officials — he’s holding on to. Though he hasn’t specified whether the officials are also from Chongqing, if they are then, well, we could expect more sackings. Clearly, there’s no stopping the scandal train.

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