A Chinese official landed in hot water after her posh outfit at a press conference went viral and sparked an online debate about appropriate attire for civil servants.
Li Shaoli, an official from Hohhot, the capital of China’s Inner Mongolia region, hosted a press briefing Saturday on the city’s COVID outbreak. She detailed the authorities’ measures to properly sterilize patients’ apartments, including discarding their bedding and refrigerated food as medical waste.
It wasn’t the excessive disinfection policy but her unusually polished look that caught the attention of social media users. Besides wavy curls, the 56-year-old official sported jewelry that resembled Van Cleef & Arpels’ Vintage Alhambra earrings, which could cost up to $4,000.
It became one of the top trending topics on Chinese social media site Weibo on Tuesday, while posts with a relevant hashtag have received more than 26 million views. It is unknown if the luxury items are authentic, but some users questioned why she would be able to afford them on a civil servant’s salary, as even top-ranking ministerial officials typically have a base salary of around 9,000 yuan ($1,236) per month—less than a third of the earrings’ price tag.
Others debated if the showy attire, which has inspired memes, is appropriate for a public official.
In response to media queries, the local disciplinary inspection commission said it would investigate, Chinese outlets reported.
One Weibo user said it was not so much Li’s appearance, but the gaping disconnect with the public that triggered the outrage. Inner Mongolia is one of China’s poorest regions, and Hohhot residents are struggling under a lockdown that has been repeatedly extended since early October. Many have complained online about skyrocketing food prices and running low on supplies.
“Their complaints are going nowhere, so residents can only tighten their belts,” a user wrote, noting the stark contrast between Li and Hohhot residents.
It was not the first time Chinese officials stirred controversy for wearing alleged luxury goods.
Last year, an official in Hunan province was accused of wearing a Hermes belt, which turned out to be a fake he bought for 140 yuan. In 2013, Yang Dacai, an official in Shaanxi province, was famously caught wearing at least 11 expensive watches on various occasions. The viral photos prompted an investigation that saw him sentenced to 14 years in jail for taking bribes and amassing unexplained wealth.
Elsewhere, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia has similarly courted criticism for an impressive collection of watches, including a rare hand-engraved Patek Philippe tourbillon that costs more than $1 million (Hun Sen earns about $2,500 a month in official salary). A Cambodian government spokesman said the timepieces were obtained legally.