News summary: Anti-corruption and citizen journalism
A local party official begs for mercy after citizens crash his illegal banquet
Since Xi Jinping’s ascendancy to the head of China’s leadership late last year, one major evolving story has been the tackling of Communist Party corruption, which Xi declared as one of his top priorities. One fascinating aspect of this anti-corruption campaign is the role of citizen journalists who employ mobile video/photography with social media to expose the misdeeds of party officials. While these web-savvy activists have done much to enforce Xi’s policies, they also run the risk of punishment if they are seen as challenging the party itself.
This uneasy dynamic can be traced over the news articles over the past few weeks, most recently with citizens crashing a lavish banquet held by a local party leader in violation of new austerity measures on government officials. A summary of these articles is listed below.
For a groundbreaking early investigation of the inner workings on Chinese local government, watch The Transition Period by Zhou Hao.
Elite in China Face Austerity Under Xi’s Rule
In the four months since he was anointed China’s paramount leader and tastemaker-in-chief, President Xi Jinping has imposed a form of austerity on the nation’s famously free-spending civil servants, military brass and provincial party bosses. Warning that graft and gluttony threaten to bring down the ruling Communists, Mr. Xi has ordered an end to boozy, taxpayer-financed banquets and the bribery that often takes the form of a gift-wrapped Louis Vuitton bag.
– Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times, March 27 2013
China’s citizen journalists finding the mouse is mightier than the pen
Citizen journalists have taken the lead in tracking down corruption and posting their findings on the internet and on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging site. Zhou Lubao, 28, is an active cyber-investigator. When not tracking down corruption he is a household appliance sales rep in a coastal city of China.
Zhou became interested in the mayor of Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province in the summer of 2012. At the time Zhou was protesting about the sentencing of Chen Pingfu <http://humanrightsinchina.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/chen-pingfus-inciting-to-subvert-state-power-by-his-blogposts/>, a Lanzhou blogger accused of “inciting subversion” – a serious charge in China. Chen was finally released in December in a rare victory for free speech. Trawling through the internet, Zhou observed that in official photographs the mayor could be seen wearing five different luxury watches.
Using a technique that had already led to the demotion of an official in Shaanxi, Zhou posted his discovery on Weibo and other online forums. The scandal was picked up by the media. The official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, even published an article entitled, “China’s craze for online anti-corruption”.
– Bruce Pedroletti, The Guardian, April 11 2013
The news that The New York Times reporter — who reported on the massive wealth of former Premier Wen Jiabao — won the Pulitzer has sparked a divided reaction on the Chinese internet
David Barboza, the Shanghai Bureau Chief of The New York Times, won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for exposing the wealth amassed by the extended family of former premier Wen Jiabao. The report <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/26/business/global/family-of-wen-jiabao-holds-a-hidden-fortune-in-china.html?ref=davidbarboza&_r=0>, which tackles head-on the politically sensitive topic of corruption by high-level officials, led the Chinese government to block Web access to both the English and Chinese versions of the New York Times entirely.
– Minami Funakoshi, The Atlantic, April 17 2013
China Presses Crackdown on Campaign Against Graft
The Chinese authorities have detained six anticorruption activists in recent days, expanding their crackdown on a citizen-led campaign that, on the surface at least, would appear to dovetail with the new leadership’s war on official graft.
The campaign, called the New Citizens Movement by its organizers, has picked up steam in the five weeks since Mr. Xi consolidated power by adding the title of president to his other titles, Communist Party general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission.
On March 31, a small group of anticorruption activists unfurled banners at a plaza in central Beijing, a move that quickly drew the police. Three of those arrested are still in custody, and a fourth was released on bail for health reasons, his lawyer said Friday. All four are charged with illegal assembly, a crime that carries a potential five-year sentence.
The arrests have both infuriated and disappointed reformers and human rights advocates, who say the crackdown bodes ill for Mr. Xi’s widely trumpeted war on graft. “The party promised to publish officials’ assets 30 years ago, something it has yet to do,” said Xu Zhiyong, a lawyer and founder of the New Citizens Movement who is being held under house arrest. “Clearly the government is afraid of this demand.”
– Andrew Jacobs, The New York Times, April 21 2013
Chinese official sacked after ‘citizen journalists’ expose extravagant banquet
Zhang Aihua did what he could to appease the outraged mob that burst into his private party, shocked as they were to witness tables strewn with rare Yangtze river fish and imported wine. He knelt on a table, picked up a loudhailer, and begged for forgiveness.
As the Communist party boss of an industrial zone in Taizhou City, in the south-east of Jiangsu province, Zhang probably knew that this revelation of official profligacy would cost him his job. “I was wrong tonight. Please forgive me. I’ll do anything if you let me go,” he pleaded, according to state media.
But his pleas went unheeded. When Zhang was fired on Monday, he became the latest victim of president Xi Jinping’s frugality and anti-corruption drive – an effort fuelled in no small part by an exasperated public set on exposing the country’s extreme wealth gap with mobile phone cameras and microblogs.
“I was outside and saw a lot of people, so rushed up to see what the commotion was,” said Jia Hongwei, a web forum administrator in Taizhou who captured the video <http://video.sina.com.cn/p/news/s/v/2013-04-21/153762330565.html> at the industrial park’s “entertainment centre” where Zhang was hosting at least 20 colleagues and investors around three well-stocked tables.
Steve Tsang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Nottingham, said that the central government may only tolerate the breed of citizen journalism that took down Zhang as long as it dovetails with the party’s priorities. “I think if and when they are seen as crossing a line, and are focused on challenging the party, or party rule, that would be a different matter,” he said. “I think the clampdown would be quite tight.”
– Jonathan Kaiman, The Guardian, April 25 2013