Showing posts tagged corruption

秘书帮 (secretary gangmìshu bāng): the secretaries in question are not your typical clerical workers, but the powerful party secretaries and protégés of embattled retired Politburo member Zhou Yongkang. In the past week, two more close political associates of Zhou’s were detained for investigation for “serious violation of discipline” (a euphemism for corruption) by the CCP’s Discipline Committee. After a pair of China Business Journal articles popularly described the group as a “secretary gang,” the term is now found in articles in local papers, Baidu Baike, and even the official China Youth Daily. “Secretary gang” is also a sort of reference to the Shanghai gang, a term used to criticize former president Jiang Zemin’s close allies, who were also accused of corruption.

Why it is blocked: And while none of the articles make direct mention of Zhou Yongkang’s name it appears that Zhou is being methodically prepared for a downfall. (Update: As of February 27, a Baidu Baike user edited the article’s oblique reference about “a certain retired member of the standing committee” to Zhou directly; one wonders how quickly that version will stay.) The investigation of Zhou, who is already reportedly under house arrest, is drawing intense scrutiny from domestic and foreign observers as to how far Xi Jinping is willing to crack down on corruption at even the highest levels of the Party—or use the charge as a fig leaf to take down someone who was once Bo Xilai’s most ardent supporter. 

While blocking a politician’s name is often about protecting them from criticism, one might argue that in this case the government is less concerned with protecting Zhou than with controlling any sort of discussion that might spring up from an opening up of Zhou’s misdeeds for public discussion. The government’s crackdown last summer on online rumors—which included the targeting of journalists and anti-corruption watchdogs who were once encouraged by authorities—shows that officials are still incredibly wary of the unpredictable nature of Internet discourse.



老胡同 (old hutonglǎo hútòng) is an urban feature found in the historic districts of several Chinese cities, most notably in Beijing. Hutongs are literally the narrow streets or alleys in these old neighborhoods, some of which trace their roots back to nearly a thousand years ago, but hutongs now generally refer to these old neighborhoods themselves and the distinctive style of architecture and traditional culture held within.

Why it is blocked: Hutongs stand as a marked contrast to the new commercial and dense residential buildings found in cities across China. Not surprisingly, hutongs have been the source of numerous controversies, especially in recent years as urban development in China continues. The destruction of hutongs, which admittedly has been ongoing for centuries in China, received particular attention in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, for which city officials razed numerous old neighborhoods in order to build infrastructure and modern buildings. It was reported that citizens who were ordered to vacate their homes were undercompensated, and the loss of history was mourned by local residents, preservationists, netizens, and tourists alike. It is this combination of citizens protesting the loss of their homes—and as with any story about land grabs in China, a whiff of corruption between city officials and the developers who stand to profit the most also hangs in the air—and foreign media attention that causes 老胡同 to be a sensitive term.

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credit: Sean Gallagher

Updated Jan 30: The peerless Brendan O’Kane smartly points out that 老胡同 could simply be a mocking nickname for Hu Jintao, in which case 老胡同 would translate to Old Comrade Hu. I wasn’t aware if this nickname was popularly used, but even if not, this would not be the first time an incredibly obscure reference to an official was blocked because it was insulting. However, a little sleuthing reveals that it has been used, although apparently not always in a mocking fashion. Some of the references appear genuine (though how much irony is being lost on me, I don’t know since one would have to be part of the community to really get if it’s an in-joke or not.)

Another theory (though as @bokane notes, it’s not quite grammatical): It could also be an abbreviation for 胡锦涛老同志, that is Hu Jintao’s old comrades (同 might also be short for 同学, classmate). In that case, 老胡同 would be a criticism of the Communist Party patronage system, wherein top officials promote and appoint their longtime friends, business partners, and classmates. Hu Jintao wasn’t quite as notorious as some top leaders for bringing his old-boy’s network with him to the top (or perhaps he wasn’t as successful at it as Jiang Zemin, whose Shanghai Clique ruled much of Chinese government and business throughout his time in power), but the so-called Youth League Faction was seen as Hu’s base of support. Though Hu Jintao and numerous other top officials are now technically unblocked from searching on Weibo, many combinations of the surnames of Hu, Wen (Jiabao), and Xi (Jinping) with other words are blocked still, and 老胡同 would fit that pattern.



These seven keywords are all related to former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s family wealth, which the New York Times detailed in an Oct 2012 article “Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader.”

  1. 张蓓莉200万耳环 (Zhang Peili 2 million RMB earring zhāng bèi lì 200 wàn ěrhuán): Zhang Peili is Wen Jiabao’s wife, and by many accounts (including his own: the Wikileaks Cablegate documents state that Wen was “disgusted” by his family’s bribe-taking) she is the driver for much of the family illicit wealth. However, I’m not certain where the 2 million figure comes from (this article quotes a Taiwanese jewelry dealer who says he spotted Zhang wearing a ring worth 2 million, but I don’t see that figure cited elsewhere).
  2. 温家 戴梦得 (Wen [Jiabao] Diamond / wēn jiā dài mèng dé): Zhang Peili was once a regulator for China’s Ministry of Geology, and she used her contacts and state money to set up various diamond businesses. The New York Times article called her China’s “diamond queen.” 
  3. 温家宝 27亿 (Wen Jiabao 2.7 billion [USD] / wēnjiābǎo 27 yì): the figure mentioned in the NYT article as to the estimated wealth of Wen’s family.
  4. 影帝温家 (Actor Wen Jiabao / yǐng dì wēn jiā): the title of a critical book on Wen, "China’s Best Actor: Wen Jiabao" (中国影帝温家宝), which claims that Wen’s persona as a warm, caring politician is all a charade.
  5. 温家 资产700亿 (Wen Jiabao assets 70 billion / wēn jiā zīchǎn 700 yì): Not sure where 70 billion comes from, but Wen’s family does have a lot of money…
  6. 温家宝夫妇 (Wen Jiabao husband-and-wife / wēnjiābǎo fūfù): A reference to Wen and his wife Zhang Peili.
  7. 总理家人 隐秘 (Premier family secret / zǒnglǐ jiārén yǐnmì): The family’s immense wealth was once a secret that only a few insiders and journalists were aware of, but after the NYT article it is now common knowledge.

In a break from our usual series of highlighting words blocked from searching on Weibo, for the next two days I’ll be looking more deeply at the keywords on chat messenger app LINE’s “bad words” list. For more about this series, see this introductory post.



人大附中择校费杨东平 (High School Affiliated to Renmin University’s school choice fees, Yang Dongping / Réndà fùzhōng zéxiàofèi, Yáng Dōngpíng) refers to a 2012 decision by administrators at one of Beijing’s most prestigious high school (known colloquially as 人大附中, or RDFZ) to raise its 择校费, or “school choice fees.” Though the government has sought to eliminate many of the tuition barriers facing poor students from attending school, passing a Compulsory Education Law in 1986, unfortunately fees continue to hinder students in poor regions from getting the same quality of education as wealthier areas.

Wealthier families are also better off with regard to education; while schools like RDFZ have an application and admission process, some parents have the option of "donating" a "choice fee" in order to ensure their child can attend the school that they desire. This fee can allow the student to jump the queue if admission is based on test scores or allow them to acquire the appropriate paperwork to attend a school outside of their designated locality. Such fees can exceed hundreds of thousands of RMB at schools like RDFZ, and has turned into a big business, with middlemen companies promising admission, teachers selling their ability to sponsor students, and some local governments refusing to crack down on price gouging in exchange for a kickback.

Yang Dongping (杨东平), an education scholar at the Beijing Institute of Technology, is a fierce critic of school choice fees and writes about inequality in the Chinese education system. He is most well-known for his 2009 blog article attacking the aoshu (奥数), or Math Olympiad—which we’ll cover in our next post…

In a break from our usual series of highlighting words blocked from searching on Weibo, for the next two days I’ll be looking more deeply at the keywords on chat messenger app LINE’s “bad words” list. For more about this series, see this introductory post.



These three terms all refer to government officials who were caught in photographs wearing expensive wrist watches. 江诗丹顿 表叔 (Jiāngshīdāndùn Biǎoshū) refers to the originator of them all, the so-called “Watch Brother” or “smiling official,” Yang Dacai, former head of the Shaanxi work safety administration. He became notorious after a photo of him smiling at the scene of a grisly bus accident went viral on Weibo. Netizens were outraged by his callous behavior and after performing a “human flesh search,” they noticed Yang wearing numerous expensive wristwatches in multiple photos. Questions were raised about how a supposedly low-paid public official could afford $10,000 Rolexes, and Yang went under investigation for corruption, eventually being sentenced in Sept 2013 to 14 years in jail.

江诗丹顿 表叔 is another nickname for him: Vacheron Constantin Wristwatch Uncle, with Vacheron Constantin the brand of a very expensive luxury watch which Yang was caught in a photo wearing.

盘锦二表哥姜伟华 (Pánjǐn èrbiǎogē Jiāng Wěihuá) and 姜伟华名表 (Jiang Weihua’s namebrand wristwatches / Jiāng Wěihuá míngbiǎo) refers to Jiang Weihua, who, as noted in a previous post, was involved with ordering the murder of a farmer in Panjin city in Liaoning. 二表哥 can be literally translated as “the Second Wristwatch Brother,” and indeed, like Yang Dacai, he was caught in photos wearing fancy watches which were well beyond the means of what his official salary should have been as well. Giving despised public officials “affectionate” nicknames is meant ironically and a trend, with receipt-signing Brother (签单哥) referring to yet another government employee embroiled in corruption allegations.

In a break from our usual series of highlighting words blocked from searching on Weibo, for the next two days I’ll be looking more deeply at the keywords on chat messenger app LINE’s “bad words” list. For more about this series, see this introductory post.



浙江签单哥 (Zhejiang’s receipt-signing BrotherZhèjiāng qiān dān gē) refers to Zhejiang’s Vice Minister of Propaganda Bao Hongjun (鲍洪俊), who was accused in by netizens of charging over 54 million yuan in expenses to his public office and illegally embezzling hundreds of millions in other corrupt activities. Netizens posted images of his receipts, which contained his signature, thus meriting him the nickname of “Zhejiang’s receipt-signing-Brother.” The falsifying of receipts by government officials and their extravagant nature has been a major story recently, especially in light of Xi Jinping’s drive to root out corruption.

Netizens have a history of affectionately referring to corrupt officials, with the most notable recent example being "Watch Brother" (表哥), Yang Dacai (杨达才).

签单哥 is currently blocked on Weibo as well.

I’m taking a break from our usual series of highlighting words blocked from searching on Weibo, and instead, for the next two days I’ll be looking more deeply at the keywords on chat messenger app LINE’s “bad words” list. For more about this series, see this introductory post.



打黑 + 薄 (smash the black / dǎhēi + the surname for Bo Xilai / ) is a reference to Bo Xilai’s 2009-2011 campaign to rid the city of Chongqing of organized crime. In Chinese, it’s known as “重庆打黑除恶专项行动” (literally, Chongqing’s fight against illegal activities and elimination of evil forces special operation) and it’s also referred to as the Chongqing gang trials in English.

Why it is blocked: Chongqing is a sprawling major city in China’s interior, home to nearly 30 million people in an area the size of South Carolina. Before Bo Xilai’s arrival in Chongqing as party secretary (the de facto head of the city), organized crime was endemic in the city, with gangs running illegal underground activity and bribing police and government officials at all levels.

When Bo took office, he vowed to tackle organized crime and corruption and gave his police chief, Wang Lijun great latitude in attacking the problem.Thousands were arrested and Bo was celebrated for his seemingly successful triad busting. However, numerous questions have arisen about the way those arrests and convictions were made, with the most notorious being the case of Li Zhuang. Li, a much respected lawyer, defended some of those arrested in the crackdown, earning the wrath of authorities. One of whose clients was forced to falsely testify against him in an obvious frameup, and Li was convicted and imprisoned.

Since then of course, Bo and his police chief have experienced a spectacular fall from grace and the afterglow of busting the triads has been lost amid stories about tortured witnesses and false confessions. It was claimed that Bo and his associates even extorted rivals by threatening to target them next. Bo was recently convicted and sentenced to life in prison for numerous crimes, including those related to his handling of the crackdown in Chongqing, and Wang Lijun was sentenced to 15 years for abuse of power in his role in the campaign.

Note: Searching for 大黑 or 薄 on its own is ok, but if you have both words in your search query, it will be blocked. (The plus is not necessary.)



富女 (rich woman / fùnǚ) is a term for a woman with money. [Note: the term was blocked for most of 2012, but has been unblocked since Oct 2012.] It may refer to one who is independently wealthy due to her job, but more typically it is used derogatorily online to criticize the obscene wealth of the wives, mistresses, and daughters of rich businessmen and government officials.

Why it is blocked: The term was blocked because of a June 2011 incident involving a 富女. Twenty-year-old Guo Meimei (郭美美), who listed her job title as commercial general manager of the “China Red Cross Chamber of Commerce,” had been posting for months about her glamorous lifestyle on Weibo, which included photos of her horseback riding, flying in first class, and flaunting her prized possessions: Hermès handbags, an orange Lamborghiniand a white Maserati luxury car. When Internet users discovered her account, investigations and outrage spread throughout Weibo. Eventually, netizens identified Wang Jun, a board member at a company who organized charity drives for the official Red Cross Society of China, as perhaps being Guo’s boyfriend, and he subsequently resigned from his job. (Though some news reports claimed that the luxury cars were actually Wang’s, Guo claimed in a TV interview that Wang had gifted them to her. Further confusion was sown when Guo and her mother claimed that Wang Jun was merely a close family friend and Guo’s “godfather.”)

Chinese Red Cross officials denied any connection with Guo, though they admitted her supposed organization did exist. Netizens demanded a full accounting of where their donations had gone, and the Chinese Red Cross launched an investigation, which turned up improprieties. However, despite the thorough investigation, the Chinese Red Cross’s reputation was already seriously damaged, and donations fell by nearly 60 percent in 2011 compared to the previous year.

The Chinese Red Cross scandal was just one of a series that shook Chinese confidence in charities—which are supposed to be tightly regulated by the government. One of the most notorious occurred in the pre–social media age: in 2001, reporters uncovered vast corruption in the China Youth Development Foundation (CYDF) program Project Hope, which aimed to help impoverished children get an education. In August 2011, another rich female was ensnared in a charity scandal: twenty-four-year-old Lu Xingyu (卢 星宇), the daughter of billionaire Lu Junqin (卢俊卿), was accused of extracting exorbitant management fees of over $20 million from her charity China-Africa Project Hope, another CYDF-affiliated program. Her rambling defense of the charity was lambasted by netizens. And on an individual level, actress Zhang Ziyi was accused of charity fraud and of not fulfilling donations as promised in 2010. In an interview she tearfully admitted to an oversight on her part and donated the balance of what she had pledged.

When Sichuan Province—decimated by a major earthquake in 2008—experienced more deadly tremors in April 2013, Guo Meimei’s name re-entered news stories, with her past corruption serving as a cautionary tale for anyone who sought to donate money to state charities. Chinese Red Cross was mostly shunned while private charities, including online ones run by Internet companies like Sina, flourished. More controversy erupted online when a video of Hong Kong politician Raymond Wong Yuk-man berating officials who sought to donate government money to relief efforts went viral. Wong and his strident criticism of corrupt charities and the mainland government became a trending topic on Weibo, even beating out Iron Man’s much publicized movie opening. It’s very possible that these events—all stemming from a lack of trust in state charities—would not likely have come to pass without Guo Meimei’s “efforts” as a 富女.



陈希同 (Chen Xitong) was the former party secretary of Beijing from 1992-95 and mayor from 1983-93, during which time he famously asserted that only two hundred had died during the Tiananmen crackdown. He was dismissed on corruption charges in the mid-90s and was imprisoned for 8 years before being released on medical parole.

Why it is blocked: The parallels between Chen’s downfall and Bo’s are quite interesting. Both were rising stars within the CCP Politburo and mayors of prominent cities. Both were arguably undone by a mixture of arrogance (Bo for “trying to rally public opinion in favor of his now-defunct bid to join the Politburo Standing Committee”; Chen for “boasting that his power was beyond anyone’s reach”), corruption (although Chen’s was demonstrably much less than was initially reported in the mid-90s; in the end, he personally took something in the neighborhood of a $100,000 in bribes, most in the form of gifts—small potatoes considering what others in China have been punished for) and for personal/political reasons. Each of their deputy mayors (who even share the same, albeit common, surname) also played sensational roles in their falls: Wang Lijun sparked Bo’s purge with his visit to the American consulate in Chengdu while Wang Baosen committed suicide under suspicious circumstances, with some claiming his choice to die in Huairou was a sort of clue or signal. Chen’s son was sentenced to prison; Wang’s merely has to suffer the infamy of being known as not owning a Ferrari. [Chen’s block was not triggered by the Bo incident; it was blocked back in January. Status - 1/14/12: blocked; 2/5/12: unblocked; 3/12/12: blocked]

Also of note: The CCP pulled out all the stops to smear Chen, including branding him as “corrupt and decadent.” Newspapers intimated that he had a taste for “entertaining young female television presenters,” and it later came out that he cavorted about with a mistress who was 15 years old. A thinly-veiled roman à clef entitled The Wrath of Heaven about Chen was released then quickly banned in 1997.



军阀 (warlord / jūnfá) is a person who has both military and civil control over a subnational area due to armed forces loyal to the warlord and not to a central authority. Chinese history is replete with cases of warlords fomenting rebellion (or valiantly defending their territory, depending on your point of view), in particular during the Three Kingdoms era and the period from the end of the Qing Dynasty to reunification in 1928, known as the Warlord Era.

Why it is blocked: This is another case of a non-contemporary word seemingly being unnecessarily blocked. China did reach one of its weakest points during the terrible infighting during the Warlord Era, and Chiang Kai-shek’s defeat of the warlords is often credited to the KMT and not to the Chinese Communist Party, which contributed troops and resources while allied with the KMT as the First United Front. But the block is probably due to netizens comparing their corrupt and abusive local leaders to warlords. [Status - 11/13/11: blocked; 2/5/12: blocked].