BEIJING – The revealing of a diary allegedly written by a local tobacco official detailing bribes he received, boozy meals with other officials and numerous extra-marital sexual liaisons is just the latest example of apparent government corruption outraging China's 'Netizens.
It is unclear if the journal entries actually were written by Han Feng, a director at the Tobacco Monopoly Bureau in China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. But when the story quickly went national after excerpts from the alleged journal were posted online, Han was suspended from his job on Feb. 22, pending an investigation.
The scandalous tale of government corruption and lechery – the diaries are a litany of bribery and sexual encounters between Han and a number of mistresses and subordinates – couldn't come at a more embarrassing time for China's central government. Just ahead is the Communist Party's annual nine-day meeting of the National People's Congress when nearly 3,000 delegates elected by China's provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities and armed forces descend on Beijing to partake in the legislative meeting.
|China Daily via Reuters|
|China's Premier Wen Jiabao adjusts his glasses as he delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5.|
The National People's Congress is considered to be little more than a symbolic rubber stamp for decisions already made by China's Communist Party, but it is also considered to be an opportunity for China's leaders to show they are in touch with the concerns of regular citizens.
Premier Wen Jiabao told delegates that the government would intensify its fight against corruption at the opening session of the party's annual meeting in Beijing last Friday. But, if there is any truth to Han's alleged journal, the government clearly has a long way to go in order to satisfy China's newly empowered – and angry – netizens.
Last year 'smoothest ever'
Han's alleged journal excerpts, posted on China's popular Tianya forum by someone claiming to be the husband of one of his mistresses, cover five months in Han's life from September 2007 to January 2008 in startling frankness. (Warning the excerpts include explicit language and sexual themes).
A typical entry reveals a man who wrote matter-of-factly about long government-financed lunches, heavy drinking, unauthorized travel and a regular stream of cash and electronic gifts from local businessmen seeking greater influence with him:
"September 16 Sunday (24-31? sunny) Sha [his wife] went shopping in the morning. Wang Shucheng took the two of us out for lunch at the Guijing Hotel. He gave me two bottles of maotai [famous brand of expensive local wine] and 50,000 yuan [$7,322] in cash. I put 30,000 yuan [$4,393] in the bank and took the other 20,000 yuan [$2,928] home."
Similarly, Han's rise through the ranks of the local tobacco bureau coincided with a flurry of new sexual partners and mistresses. In his end of the year journal entry on Dec. 31, 2007, Han noted his success, but also his concerns about the new female attention:
"I finally got some women. I hooked up with Xiao Pan. I have fun with Tan Xianfang regularly. I also have fun with Mo Yaodai. I have luck with women this year. But when there are too many women, I have to watch my body health."
Still, he concludes: "The year 2007 is over. This is the year in which my work has gone the smoothest ever."
Online outrage seethes
The response to Han's journal postings among China's 'Netizens was instant and intense.
"Is this the normal state of our national cadres?" questioned one blogger on Tianya, to which another responded, "Officialdom is very yellow [perverted], very black [illicit], this is probably the tip of the iceberg."
"We should recommend this to become one of major issues submitted to the National People's Congress to discuss!" exclaimed another irate 'Netizen.
Despite the allegations and criticism against him, Han is fighting back. Last week he approached local police alleging that his privacy had been violated and requested assistance in tracking down the perpetrators behind the theft of his journal, which he claims was heavily distorted in order to smear him.
Hearing the clamoring
Whatever their sentiments, reaction to Han's story is just another example of the increasing influence 'Netizens wield in shaping public discourse.
Perhaps bending to this increased strength and anger, last month Premier Wen Jiabao hosted his second Web chat. The premier responded to over 20 questions during the two-hour session, which touched on a number of sensitive subjects, including corruption.
"The Chinese people attached so much importance to the anti-corruption cause when we are coping with the financial meltdown, and why?" asked Wen. "Because in my opinion, economic development, social justice and a clean government are the three pillars of social stability."
In addition, Wen introduced a new proposal that has gained momentum as the National People's Congress comes to a close: the mandatory disclosure of financial assets by government officials.
Wen's proposal was warmly welcomed on another popular government-sanctioned platform, the People Daily's "e-Congress," an online forum created by the official newspaper of the Communist party, where 'Netizens can maintain a real-time discussion – within guidelines – on issues discussed during the congress.
A score of questions and an online forum may not sound like much, but compared to the level of discourse at the National People's Congress, it's a start.
How many questions were the 2,987 delegates to the National People's Congress allowed to ask Wen after his two hour speech on China's next Five Year Plan afforded? A round zero.