And Finally

Naked ambition

Nudity as art, and as a metaphor for officials on the take

Ou on the Bund

I use nude push-ups to record his tory” is how Ou Zhihang, a television fashion show presenter, explained it to the Beijing Youth Weekend earlier this year. Ou has been busy in his work, performing naked press-ups in a series of high profile places, including the site of the CCTV building inferno (WiC3), the Yunnan prison in which a prisoner died from a game of “hide and seek” (WiC20) and the perimeter of a controversial garbage incinerator in Guangzhou (WiC48).

Early reactions were rather bemused ones. But when art critics began adding a narrative of their own, Ou’s press-ups in the buff became a metaphor for those with least rights, critic Bao Kun told the Global Times.

But it’s another type of nudity that has been getting more coverage recently, with discussion of so-called “naked officials”. There’s no suggestion of anyone disrobing on duty here, however. The term, one of the country’s leading buzzwords for 2009, refers to civil servants who are stripped of their families. Not forcibly, though: it is their own choice to send their wives and children to live overseas. The official himself usually stays on to work in China, often with the other country’s visa (and probably an airline ticket) in his back pocket too.

The problem is that the emigrating family members often end up with lifestyles that look well beyond the income of a Chinese civil servant. Helpfully, they are also in position to open overseas bank accounts in their new homelands, as well as purchase property there too.

A Communist Party communiqué earlier this year seemed to recognise the problem by referring to more monitoring of officials with families overseas. In the southern city of Shenzhen there are already regulations in place that prohibit ‘naked’ officials from holding major public office.

Many feel that an outright ban is a better solution. In an opinion piece in Southern Weekend, those against a complete ban were concerned about maintaining the presumption of innocence. But those in favour argued that naked officials are “almost always” behaving corruptly – how else would they have the resources to send their families overseas in the first place? They also doubted that a supervisory system would work, so better just to fire naked officialdom en masse.

How many naked officials are there? According to the Ministry of Commerce’s own figures, at least 4,000 public office-holders fled the country with an accumulated $50 billion in cash between 1978 and 2003. That may well understate the problem, although commentators don’t seem to expect swift remedial action.

Certainly nothing as rapid as Ou’s nude push-up routine. He tells journalists that he can strip off, click the auto-focus button, race to his desired spot and hold the appropriate push-up pose all within eight seconds. Now that is fast work.


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