What to Make of China’s Sex Scandal Surge?

The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos reflects on the series of sex scandals involving Chinese government officials that have emerged over the past few weeks:

I wrote, not long ago, about the odd political significance of an orgy involving some obscure, photo-loving Communist Party officials. At the risk of tarting up an event that speaks for itself, I argued that it was a problem for Chinese leaders because it made clear the gap between the Party’s artificial solemnity and the unadorned reality beneath. Since then, more has happened, and here is a brief inventory: in addition to the police chief and his secrets of the Usu sisterhood, there was the recent case of Lei Zhengfu, an official in Chongqing who was abruptly dismissed after a sex video showed him with a woman a third of his age who had been hired by a local real-estate developer to blackmail public officials into giving out hugely valuable tracts of land. (As outlandish as those details were, they were surpassed by the sheer physicality of the gentleman in question, a man whose astonishing ranine qualities inspired a wave of Chinese parodies online.)

But let’s not get sidetracked. Onward with the inventory: There was Wu Hong, who turned up in pictures the other day wearing his uniform from the Urban Administrative and Law Enforcement Bureau, alongside a young woman in a hotel room who was not wearing much of any uniform at all. There was the local Shanxi official, Li Junwen, caught juggling four wives and ten kids in the land of the one-child policy. (Perhaps the one-wife policy should have been made more explicit?) Admittedly, they start to blur: Can I interest you in the executive of the state-owned oil company in pictures with a female subordinate? Or, perhaps, the vice head of the Shandong Agricultural Department found to have signed a hand-written contract with his mistress, promising to divorce his wife by December 20th?

The most interesting thing about the list above? Everything on there comes from the past three weeks. Not one day more. Some have argued that the surge of sex-scandal news is a sign that the new Politburo is determined to expose and crack down on the phenomenon. (Indeed, the police chief and the hapless Lei, among others, are already on their way to punishment.) Others see it as the accretion of the power of the Web. I see it as a bit of both. But exposing the epic ineptitude of public servants is not the same as rooting it out as its spiritual source: a deep-rooted culture of impunity and entitlement that has grown without boundaries for three decades. That will be a far more difficult task.

December 12, 2012 7:31 PM
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