Sex Tape Blogger Zhu Ruifeng Thrives as Muckraker

The New York Times’ Andrew Jacobs profiles anti-corruption blogger Zhu Ruifeng, whose publication of a sex tape last November brought down 11 Chongqing officials and exposed the extortion ring that had ensnared them.

With his five cellphones constantly ringing, it is not easy these days to get the undivided attention of Zhu Ruifeng, a self-styled citizen journalist whose freelance campaign against graft has earned him pop-star acclaim and sent a chill through Chinese officialdom.

[…] A former migrant worker with a high school education, Mr. Zhu has become an overnight celebrity in China in the two months since he posted online secretly recorded video of an 18-year-old woman having sex with a memorably unattractive 57-year-old official from the southwestern municipality of Chongqing. The official lost his job. Mr. Zhu gained a million or so new microblog followers.

The takedown was just the opening act, Mr. Zhu says. He promises to release six more sex videos that he predicts will make a number of other men run for cover. “I’m fighting a war,” he said with characteristic bombast, his voice a near-shriek. “Even if they beat me to death, I won’t give up my sources or the videos.”

[…] Mr. Zhu, who began his Web site in 2006, largely relies on whistle-blowers to funnel damning evidence to him. Through the years, he said, he has exposed 100 officials, bringing down more than a third of them. He has been threatened and beaten; more than once, he says, he has been offered huge sums of money to delete an incriminating post from his site, which is called People’s Supervision.

Zhu’s “characteristic bombast” may seem excessive, but is at least in part a matter of self-defense: by courting attention from traditional and social media, he hopes to deter attempts to silence him. That he credits Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption speeches, the Chinese Constitution and his own love of country with inspiring his activities may confer some measure of additional protection.

Nevertheless, his crusade has cost him. He has chosen to end his marriage, he says, rather than see his wife, a P.L.A. officer, suffer retaliation from his adversaries. “To be honest,” he told The Times’ Jonah Kessel, “I would like to tend to the big family in sacrifice of the small family.”

Kessel has also posted outtakes from their conversation on Vimeo, including an extended account of a recent police visit to Zhu’s Beijing home. Chongqing authorities appear determined to contain the sex tape scandal by acquiring Zhu’s remaining videos, but as in the recent New York Times hacking attacks, identifying sources seems to be their primary goal. From Tom Lasseter at McClatchy:

Powerful interests were searching for his sources, he explained over lunch last Friday [January 25th]. Police detained one contact in the southwestern city of Chongqing, where the scandal had erupted, Zhu said. They traced a second source to Henan province, hundreds of miles away, and had questioned that person at least twice.

Two days after that conversation, the police showed up at Zhu’s home in Beijing. They banged on his door Sunday night and demanded that he come with them. He refused but reported to a police station Monday morning, where he was held for more than seven hours. Police officers from Chongqing pressed him to hand over five sex recordings he hasn’t made public and to tell them the identities of his informants. They threatened that “if you don’t present evidence, you will be in violation of national law,” according to Zhu’s account.

The pressure on Zhu suggests that despite Communist Party rhetoric about an all out campaign against corruption, limits remain. The party’s leader, Xi Jinping, said shortly after being installed in November that failing to crack down on corruption would risk the downfall of the state. But while Beijing has dismissed some wayward officials and canceled extravagant banquets that stoked resentment among average Chinese, it so far seems set on keeping a tight grip to keep the process from spinning out of control.

Undaunted, Zhu has offered a cash reward to anyone who can verify the identity of a state-owned enterprise president allegedly caught on one of the videos. Meanwhile, the woman in the videos was formally charged with extortion last week, though she too has been hailed—perhaps less plausibly than in Zhu’s case—as an anti-corruption crusader. From Keith Zhai at the South China Morning Post:

“Zhao was officially arrested on December 31 for extortion,” Zhang said yesterday, adding that she had been “brainwashed” by a company she left in 2009 to secretly record herself having sex with officials to give the firm leverage. “After all, she was young and a victim herself.”

[…] Zhao has drawn support on social media, with internet users hailing her as a heroine for exposing corrupt officials.

Many have compared Zhao’s case with that of Deng Yujiao , a hotel waitress who in 2009 stabbed to death a local party official in Hubei and wounded another after they tried to force themselves on her.

Deng was charged with assault, rather than murder, but walked free on grounds of diminished responsibility after having received widespread support from the online community.