In China, power, corruption, and mistresses are like the three points of a triangle — one is hardly worth having without the other two. It’s assumed that most officials keep mistresses, and that there’s a direct correlation between how powerful an official is, how corrupt he might be, and how many mistresses he keeps.
Liu Zhijun, the disgraced minister of railways, was found to have embezzled $152 million and juggled 18 mistresses. But he was no match for Bo Xilai, the Chongqing party chief who fell from power early this year, who was rumoured to have, through his wife, funnelled over a $1 billion out of the country and kept as many as 100 mistresses.
But unlike America, where a mistweeted cock shot can end a political career, for senior officials in China, sexual imprudence is almost always a coda to allegations of corruption. Only after an official’s political indiscretions are revealed do his personal indiscretions come to light.
All that changed two weeks ago when a five-year-old sex tape of Beibei district party secretary Lei Zhengfu, yet another corrupt Chongqing official, was released online by Zhu Ruifeng, a private investigative journalist who runs a website aimed at exposing corruption.
In the video, Lei, a bleak faced mummy's boy who's creepy blank expression has undoubtedly seen its fair share of mistresses, flops around on top of an 18-year-old, which some media have identified as a woman named Zhao Hongxia, before dismounting and cleaning himself off. The sex tape was filmed with a hidden camera in Zhao’s purse and focuses on Lei's bulbous undulations. It isn't meant for anyone's sexual enjoyment.
In fact, the recording was commissioned by a real estate developer, who paid Zhao 300 yuan (£40) to tape her bang session with Lei. The developer then used the recording as leverage to blackmail the philandering official.
At the time, Lei was defended by Wang Lijun, Bo Xilai’s venal police chief, who raided the developer’s house and found similar sex tapes implicating other high-level provincial officials. The developer was jailed for a year and each of the honey pots a month.
But with Wang Lijun in jail for 15 years after running to the U.S. consulate and blowing the whistle on Bo in February, Lei was no longer protected. In early November, a source inside the Chongqing police leaked the videos to Zhu.
Zhu says that the tapes show at least four other senior Chongqing officials doing their best Ray J. He also says he is being monitored and intimidated by Chongqing authorities, which is pretty standard when you antagonise everyone in the city with something to lose.
Surprisingly, Zhu has been offered police protection by the Beijing Public Security Bureau. The state media has also tacitly supported his efforts.
China Daily published an op-ed that extolled “the Internet's prowess as the people's tool against abusive officials,” which echoes a call made by China’s new president, Xi Jinping, who said in a speech during the National Congress that increasingly serious corruption “will inevitably doom the party and the state.”
Some take these developments as evidence as proof that the government is finally, finally cracking down on corruption, but I find it hard to be so sanguine.
If the government sees the internet as a tool to fight corruption, why do they routinely block search terms related to corruption? If the government is finally cracking down on misconduct, why did an independent journalist, and not the state media, break the story?
Don’t forget that the video, the primary piece of evidence against Lei, was itself an act of corruption and sexual exploitation. And lastly, would the Beijing Public Security Bureau be so eager to protect Zhu if he were posting videos of Beijing or central government officials and their paramours?
That fact remains that in China, corruption is only exposed when it’s unavoidable or politically expedient to do so. When Wang Lijun ran to the US consulate, he forced the central government’s hand. Liu Zhijun was only brought down when he tried to bribe his way into the CCP Central Committee.
Chinese officials have sex with mistresses every day, but most are careful enough not to be caught on tape. And even if they are, so long as they have the right connections, no one will ever know. In China, power is the best publicist.
It seems unlikely that the Chinese government will ever get serious about battling corruption or sexual indiscretion. After all, if every corrupt official with a mistress got fired, who'd run the country?