Earlier this month Beijing’s Renmin University produced a paper entitled ‘The Image Crisis of Government Officials in 2012’.
It might not have had the snappiest name, but it made for salacious reading.
In it, Tang Jun, a political scientist at the university’s School of Public Administration and Policy, calculates that 95% of Chinese officials suspected of corruption also keep mistresses.
This, of course, is nothing new: powerful Chinese men have had lovers and concubines for centuries.
But Dr Tang’s report makes two important points. Firstly, that the practice seems more widespread now than at other time in recent history. And secondly that there is a direct link between these liaisons and a corrupt lifestyle.
“Ninety five per cent of officials exposed for corruption in the last year have had mistresses and in more than 60 of those cases the officials’ corrupt practice had something to do with their lovers,” Tang claims.
Blame the ladies, then? At the most basic level, it simply costs much more to keep a mistress, the report says. A flat has to be purchased or rented. Given the age discrepancy in almost all of these relationships, handbags and designer clothes are required to keep the young women interested.
All of this usually costs much more money than an official salary will cover.
But as Tang and others have pointed out, the nexus goes deeper than a few dodgy deals for a cosy love nest and a trinket or two.
Mistresses – known as ernai or ‘second breast’ in Chinese – are also commonly used to bribe and blackmail their lust-lorn partners, as in the recent case of 54 year-old Lei Zhengfu, a district Party secretary from the city of Chongqing.
Lei was sacked last November when a video of him atop his 18-year-old squeeze was posted online.
The girl is said to have filmed the deeply unflattering footage at the request of a local construction company which then used the tape to pressure Lei.
The Hong Kong based journalist who runs the website on which the clip first appeared says there is more footage of other officials to come.
Other investigations have shown that mistresses have helped out in broking business deals for their lovers or looking after their ill-gotten gains. The lack of a legal connection between them and their sugar daddies means the graft is less likely to be uncovered in any investigation.
But what many officials don’t seem to realise is that many of the women do it for personal gain, rather than true love. And often they are perfectly happy to dob their lovers in to the authorities too.
Last week 54 year-old Yi Junqing, a self-described rising star, was sacked from his job as director of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau after a former lover posted a 120,000-word account of their affair online.
Ms Chang, a married 34 year-old, said she took action because Yi had failed to make good on the promise of a job in his think-tank’s headquarters in Beijing. That was after she had paid him almost $10,000 and had sex with him 17 times.
Later Chang deleted the post, saying that it was a work of fiction. But it must have been believable enough for Yi’s bosses, as he was soon dismissed for leading an “improper lifestyle”.
Given the overlap between corruption and sex, another academic has called for the setting up of an official whistleblowing scheme for mistresses.
“Many corruption investigations begin with information or lawsuits from the mistresses. Why not? They have direct knowledge of the officials’ behavior,” Li Chengyan of Peking University’s Research Centre for Government Integrity told Foreign Policy Magazine.
A more outspoken assessment was given by Cao Lin, a reporter at China Youth Daily. He commented on his Sina Weibo account last year: “Officialdom is a pit: If there’s abuse of power, there must be sex; if there’s sex there must be an exchange of money for power.”
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