Economy

Time will tell

Government officials ‘watch’ what they wear

A netizen with the deeply unthreatening online moniker ‘Mountain Flower and Fruit General Secretary’ is striking fear into the hearts of government officials.

Why? Because Daniel Wu is an expert on horology. In a series of web postings he has been identifying how many bureaucrats seem to be wearing watches sold at high prices.

His interest began after the bullet train crash outside Wenzhou in July. Photos in the media then showed local officials visiting the site, and Mountain Flower noted one senior bureaucrat wearing a Rmb70,000 Rolex Oyster Perpetual.

His curiosity piqued, he then Googled photos of a range of bureaucrats, by typing in terms like ‘general secretary’, ‘party secretary’ and ‘provincial governor’.

This investigative approach – commonly known in China as a ‘human flesh search’ – generated lots of material.

Wu then began to identify the timepieces on display on all of those official wrists. His postings soon generated a lot of interest, in no small measure because his research was so detailed, note Southern Weekend

For example, at the beginning of this month he posted a photo of a vice mayor from a major Chinese city captioned: “Longines L4.709.4.72.6, very low key, based on La Grande feature lugs [these are the protrusions from the case of a wristwatch to which the strap or bracelet attaches], and dial reflective style. Public price of Rmb8,100.”

South Weekend reports that government officials tend to favour dark, dull suits. But to stand out among colleagues they like to wear a designer watch – preferably gold-flecked and studded with diamonds.

Wu says his research suggests the preferred brand is Rolex (got to be a gold one, too) but that he has also spotted quite a few Omega Constellations, Longines La Grandes and Rado Integrals. Of course, the next question is how most of these officials are able to afford such weighty brand names? South Weekend connects the (rather obvious) dots by saying corruption is at work, citing data that more than half of luxury goods sold in China are purchased as “business gifts”.

The Financial Times reports that Sina has shut down Wu’s weibo.

Then again, he is not the first to expose corrupt officials via their watches. Longtime readers of WiC will recall one of our early articles (see issue 7) in which Nanjing official Zhou Jiugeng was fired after netizens spotted a photo featuring him wearing a $14,600 Vacheron Constantin watch (he was on a monthly salary of $584 at the time).

Nor is this lost on China’s leadership. Last week at the World Economic Forum in Dalian, Premier Wen Jiabao returned to the anti-corruption theme once again, criticising those who abuse their office for “personal profit” and urging that lists of the assets of leaders and their families (gradually) be made available to the public.

But perhaps because of the resilience of the online community’s focus on the topic, there is often a sense that graft is becoming more widespread, and not less so, despite Wen’s pleas.

For instance, the train crash in Wenzhou led to much discussion about whether safety had been compromised because of it. After all, longtime railway minister Liu Zhijun had been arrested earlier in the year for taking Rmb1 billion in bribes. (There was further embarassment on news that Liu had kept 18 mistresses.)

Nor will Wen be happy to hear from Henan, where the new mayor of Luohe has just set a new and inglorious standard. Lv Qinghai was unanimously ‘voted’ into the role by the local Party Congress, reports Hong Kong newspaper The Sun, only to be detained just 49 days after taking office.

“Lv has created the record for the shortest tenure of a corrupt official,” the newspaper writes.

But WiC’s favourite corrupt official remains the former deputy secretary of Jiangxi, who was arrested earlier this month while cavorting with two of his mistresses.

Helpfully, he had also kept a journal revealing all 136 women he had slept with while in office. In true Casanova style, he was aiming to bed 1,000 by 2015 – a five year plan he now looks rather unlikely to achieve.


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