Among the many notable features of the latest grainy sex tape circulating on the Chinese Internet — a video of former Chongqing official Lei Zhengfu atop his then-18-year-old mistress in 2007 — perhaps the most intriguing is the angle from which it was shot. Someone placed a rudimentary video camera, or perhaps a camera phone, on a low dresser adjacent to a hotel bed and pointed it upwards. The pale slender woman is barely visible, but Lei’s face, grunting in the throes of pleasure, is in full view.
As the amateur porn made waves online after it surfaced on Nov. 20, Chongqing’s Commission for Discipline Inspection, the organ responsible for dealing with corruption and wrongdoing among party members, determined that the man in the video was indeed Lei. (He initially denied it, claiming Photoshop mischief.) Removed him from his post as district party secretary on Nov. 23, Lei is now being investigated for party discipline infractions and graft, in the second-raciest scandal to erupt in Chongqing this year, after the March fall of the municipality’s former party boss Bo Xilai.
Conjugal entanglements of power, politics, money, and men, usually involving multiple sex partners, are hardly new in China, but how this video came to light was novel: Zhu Ruifeng, a 31-year-old former investigative journalist at the respected Guangzhou province newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily, who now runs an anti-corruption website called “People’s Supervision” in Beijing, posted the footage online in mid November. He represents a new trend: watchdogs who both understand that the Communist Party has a severe mistress problem, and realize that the problem can be used as weapon in the fight against corruption.
Corruption scandals in China have long been packaged with sexual indiscretion. For almost every fallen official there are tales of paramours, sometimes too numerous to seem plausible. Liu Zhijun, the former Railway Minister who is awaiting trial on corruption allegations, was reported to have had 18 mistresses. Shanghai Communist Party secretary Chen Liangyu, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2008 for accepting massive bribes, was accused by the party leadership of being a morally decadent philanderer who traded “power for sexual favors.” When Bo Xilai, the purged former leader of the southwestern city of Chongqing, was ejected from the Communist Party in September, the allegation that he had “improper relationships” with several women was the least shocking development after months of revelations about corruption, murder and abuse of power.
So when a municipal official in Chongqing was caught up in a sex-and-corruption scandal last week, the only surprise was the order of the revelations — first the sex, then the corruption — and the level of detail. Lei Zhengfu, the Communist Party secretary of Chongqing’s Beibei district, was removed from his office on Friday pending an official investigation, but not before he became widely known in China as the balding, bug-eyed, body-built-by-banquets star of a sex tape that circulated widely online last week. The 36-second video is unforgettable in the worst sense of the word. Even casual users of social media in China were subjected to repeated appearances of the naked Lei with a then 18-year-old mistress.
Chinese media organizations are riddled with informers who report directly to the government - only a minority of journalists are brave enough to fight the system.
One afternoon in May 2001, I got a call from a stranger claiming to be from the publicity department of Guangdong provincial party committee, asking me to remove an article that was going to be published in the next day’s Southern Metropolis Daily. As editor-in-chief of the paper, I often got similar calls from party organisations. However, on this occasion I did not know the caller and I wanted to take the chance to show my disappointment, so I answered very impolitely: “I’m sorry, I don’t know you. I cannot be certain that this is a directive from the departmental leadership. To prevent anyone from falsely using the name of the publicity department and issuing orders to the paper, please could you fax over written documentation, because it is hard to execute this when there is no evidence.”
Towards the end of Jiang Zemin’s term as general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CCP), the control over the media by the publicity department, led by Ding Guangen, got tighter and tighter. One obvious change was that the department no longer sent orders to the media in formal documents or cables, requiring editors to implement them. Instead, it left messages on the phone or sent text messages directly to specific people in charge. The reason for this was that there were increasingly frequent prohibitions. Written documents needed to be approved at every level, and the bureaucracy was too complex and too slow in urgent cases. Passing the message over the phone or by text message was quick; the process was simple and effective.
Before the current general secretary, Hu Jintao, came to power in 2002, human rights worsened, justice took a step back, certain dignitaries rose in power and corruption intensified. The CCP’s ideological clampdown strengthened in all aspects and the media took the biggest hit. Liu Yunshan, a former correspondent for Xinhua, the official Chinese press agency, took charge of the publicity department. He seemed to be professional at hiding the truth and fabricating lies. The authorities exerted greater control over the media and the extent of the control grew even wider. There were ever more tactics, which became more specific and targeted. Every time there was a big emergency or an important meeting, there would be a deluge of prohibitions and regulations from the publicity department.
Hundreds of web users have signed a petition demanding the release of a man arrested for criticizing China’s authorities on Twitter.
Zhai Xiaobing, who is on Twitter bearing the name @Stariver, was stopped by police days before the new Chinese leaders were confirmed on 15 November.
In a tweet, the account compared the Communist Party 18th National Congress to horror film Final Destination.
In it, characters at first escape death, but still end up dying one by one.
“#SpoilerTweet# #EnterAtYourPeril# Final Destination 6 to arrive soon,” the tweet, posted on 4 November, read.
“The Great Hall of the People suddenly collapses, only seven of more than 2,000 people inside survive,” it read.
“Later, one-by-one the survivors die in strange ways. Is it the game of God, or the Devil venting his wrath?” it added.
According to the BBC, all the numbers mentioned in the tweet make reference to the leadership handover, and the new leadership consists of seven members, one of whom is the newly appointed Communist Party chief Xi Jinping.
China’s political leaders put stability above all else. So it’s a remarkable sign of the times that they could be passing around well-thumbed copies of a book about the sudden, bloody outbreak of the French Revolution two-and-a-quarter centuries ago.
Why would China’s modern rulers, preoccupied with the leadership handover under way in Beijing this week, be interested in Alexis de Tocqueville’s The Old Regime and the French Revolution?
They are ”fascinated by the French thinker’s writings because of what his observations say about conditions in their times,” says a visiting professor at China’s Sun Yat-sen University, Nailene Chou Wiest.
Since the Communist Party seized power in 1949 in a violent revolution, its highest priority has been to guard against what it calls ”counter-revolution”.
Yet the popularity of Tocqueville’s work suggests that this is precisely what it now fears. ”Is China ripe for another revolution?” poses Wiest.
Among the many passages that must send chills down the spine of China’s dictators is the French historian’s famous remark that the outbreak of France’s violent upheaval was ”so inevitable, yet so completely unforseen”.
“Regrettable.” That’s the word both Japan’s finance minister and the head of the Bank of Japan used to describe their Chinese counterparts who canceled appearances at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank this month.
Why would high Chinese officials skip the two gatherings? State media initially referred to scheduling conflicts, but Beijing then went mum.
Yet it’s clear to most observers why Chinese Finance Minister Xie Xuren and central bank chief Zhou Xiaochuan pulled out at the last minute and sent deputies instead. China wanted to register its displeasure at Japan, and the two meetings were held in Tokyo.
Beijing had recently stirred up a nasty territorial dispute over the the Senkakus, a string of Japanese-controlled islets in the East China Sea. Beijing calls the barren islands the Diaoyus, and its claim is far weaker than Japan’s as a matter of international law. Unfortunately for China, Beijing acknowledged the islands belonged to Japan up until the beginning of the 1970s. There are official Chinese maps that show the Senkakus as Japan’s.
Beijing’s prior acknowledgement of Japanese sovereignty does not seem to bother the current crop of Chinese leaders, who are now insistently pressing their claim. Last month, they exerted pressure on Japan by orchestrating nationwide protests, which resulted in firebombings and looting of Japanese businesses, and by employing extra-legal tactics to undermine Japanese business operations in China. At the same time, Communist Party and state media conducted an unrelenting campaign against Tokyo.
As China’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition begins in Beijing next month, the government’s treatment of high-profile critics such as the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo will invariably garner attention inside the country and abroad. The persecution of such dissidents certainly merits discussion, but it must not obscure a larger phenomenon: the emergence of widespread populist activism in China.
At first, Alison Klayman’s new documentary, “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,”seems to fit this perspective, by focusing on the singular work, political activism, and daily life of Ai Weiwei, the world-famous Beijing-based artist and outspoken government critic. In raising subjects that are usually airbrushed from the Chinese media, the film contains much that the Chinese leadership will dislike. It highlights Ai’s international celebrity and his ability to mobilize large numbers of people through social media, the naked brutality of the Chinese police, and the still-debilitating aftereffects of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
But “Never Sorry” does much more than call attention to the work of Ai and the well-known artists, writers, and critics he interacts with. The most poignant aspect of the documentary — and the one that senior Chinese leaders would find most alarming — is expressed by a woman who had volunteered with a project that Ai led to compile the names of schoolchildren who died in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake when their shoddily constructed schools collapsed. She recalls how, when the authorities asked her whom she was working for, she replied, “We were all volunteers, there on our own. The way I see it, we weren’t there as anybody’s ‘people.’ “
The Chinese government does tolerate some state-dictated volunteerism; the Chinese Ministry of Internal Affairs had registered more than 10,000 civil society groups by 2011. When it serves the political interests of the Communist Party or the government, popular mobilizing is fine, as is the case with the periodic virulent anti-Japanese manifestations.
Eric Hobsbawm was widely considered one of the greatest British historians of his age; he was certainly the most controversial.
Long a loyal member of the Communist Party, Hobsbawm wielded enormous influence during the 1960s and 1970s, when his ideas helped to provide the intellectual underpinning for Left-wing revolutionary activism in the West. But though the scope and grasp of detail that pervaded his many beautifully-written books won praise across the political spectrum, there was no getting around the fact that he persisted in defending the record of totalitarian communism long after it ceased to be fashionable or, indeed, defendable.
Where many of his comrades left the Communist Party in protest after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, for example, Hobsbawm did not. Refusing to give up his party card, he explained that he “did not want to lose that narrow high ground”, and did not want to betray the memory of old comrades - “enormously good people” who had devoted their lives to the “liberation of mankind”. It was only a little while before the party itself dissolved in 1991 that he let his membership lapse.
Hobsbawm kept the apologetics going until well after the Soviets themselves had given up the struggle; in the 1990s he was one of the few Marxist academics who still argued that a system which even its practitioners considered to have been an unmitigated catastrophe had “great and sometimes astonishing achievements to its credit”.
In 1994 he wrote that, on balance, the achievements of the “shining light” of the Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent dictatorship of Stalin had been positive and wrote of the “far from unimpressive records” of dictators like Honecker and Ceaucescu.
In February 1957, Chairman Mao Zedong rose to speak to a packed session of China’s Supreme State Conference in Beijing. The architect and founding father of the People’s Republic of China was about to deliver what one scholar described as “the most important speech on politics that he or anyone else had made since the creation of the communist regime” eight years before.
Mao’s speech, titled, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” began with a broad explanation of socialism and the relationship between China’s bourgeoisie and working class. Joseph Stalin, he said, had “made a mess of” unifying the classes in the Soviet Union. In a section of his speech that the Communist Party would delete before publishing the text in the Peoples Daily, he claimed that China had learned “from the mistakes” of the Soviets, who had killed too many people they should not have killed, as well as from those of the Hungarian communists, who had not executed enough. He acknowledged that the Chinese government had killed 700,000 “counterrevolutionaries” between 1950 and 1952, but said, “Now there are no more killings.” If the government had not carried out those executions, he claimed, “the people would not have been able to lift their heads. The people demanded their execution and the liberation of the productive forces.”
Yet Mao’s speech may be best known for marking the beginning of the Hundred Flowers Movement—a brief campaign that ended in the betrayal of the principle on which it was based and the people he had invited to take part. A few months earlier, as anti-Soviet demonstrations erupted in Eastern Europe, Zhou Enlai, China’s popular and highly influential premier, had emphasized a greater need for China’s intellectuals to participate in governmental policy-making. “The government needs criticism from its people,” Zhou proclaimed in a speech. “Without this criticism the government will not be able to function as the People’s Democratic Dictatorship. Thus the basis of a healthy government lost….We must learn from old mistakes, take all forms of healthy criticism, and do what we can to answer these criticisms.”
Chinese leaders announced on Friday that Bo Xilai, a disgraced Communist Party aristocrat, had been expelled from the party and would be prosecuted on criminal charges, a move that effectively ends his remarkable political career.
Mr. Bo is accused, among other things, of playing some role in the murder of a British businessman by Mr. Bo’s wife and of taking “massive bribes” directly and through his family, according to Xinhua, the state news agency.
The Xinhua report also said the 18th Party Congress, an event climaxing China’s once-a-decade leadership transition, is scheduled to start on Nov. 8, a week after the start of a party planning session and two days after the American presidential election.