A camper van worth €1,000 ($1,305) and a scooter valued at just €900 were two of the more mundane assets disclosed by members of Francois Hollande’s government this month, following a scandal in which a colleague was exposed as holding a Swiss bank account.
Quite what some of the political elite would have to reveal should a similar exercise be undertaken in China is a game of guesstimate – for now, at least.
For instance, would Huang Sheng, the former deputy governor of Shandong province, have felt the urge to declare his 46 mistresses or his predilection for entertaining them in what has been dubbed as a ‘pleasure palace’?
Aside from speculation about his demanding social life, when Huang’s case first came to light almost 18 months ago there were suggestions online that he had accumulated a massive $9 billion haul from illegal activity. Wondering more if Huang’s detention might herald a wave of corruption scandals in advance of China’s leadership handover, WiC actually expressed caution about the spectacular sum (see issue 131). Lately the Chinese press has been looking back on the figure with more scorn too, saying that the locals would have had to give up most of their money for years if Huang was really to collect such a vast ransom.
So how much did Huang manage to purloin? The sum cited in the case that opened against him in Nanjing this month now sounds almost trivial (a little over Rmb12 million or less than $2 million). “That’s unbelievable!” one weibo contributor scoffed. “A vice governor of a province who takes so little money, less than the price of two houses?” But the Yangcheng Evening News suggests that Huang made most of his cash during a long stint as mayor of Dezhou, often from fees charged for political appointments. A more senior promotion to county-level Party secretary was billed at Rmb500,000, for instance, while a lowlier posting to deputy mayor in a township might cost the applicant Rmb50,000. Huang and his accomplices also struck deals with property developers, Legal Weekly has alleged, usually in approving land bids at low prices. Sometimes Huang may have asked for properties himself in exchange for the clandestine arrangements, with allegations that his ex-wife Yan Qianzi played a role, threatening demolitions if an appropriate incentive wasn’t made available.
Perhaps it’s just as well that Yan kept busy, as her husband’s philandering must surely have cut into their quality time together (“Allegedly, Huang Sheng likes the ladies” is how the Yangcheng Evening News puts it, with careful understatement).
Others have felt freer to enjoy this aspect of the story, particular the mentions of “Mandarin Duck baths” in Huang’s case. Derived from an original meaning of a couple of perching ducks, the phrase has earthier connotations of shared baths, often of an illicit nature, with nubile ladies.
And if the domestic media is to be believed, Huang kept himself very clean indeed (after office hours, admittedly) at a local hotel in Dezhou. “Once you get off the elevator on the fourth floor, you will be confronted with multiple big bathrooms for guests,” the Yangcheng Evening News reports an unnamed source as recounting. “In addition, there is a bar, a ballroom, a billiard room, a dance studio and an archery room. Huang Sheng and other officials have taken Mandarin Duck baths here many times.”
Less lurid but similarly revealing is that the Chinese public doesn’t seem particularly enraged by Huang’s conduct. Writing for Tea Leaf Nation, a blog covering China’s social media, Liz Carter says this is because the case has been covered by the newspapers rather than emerging as the kind of do-it-yourself online discovery that has whipped netizens into a self-righteous fury in the past.
Her other suggestion is that it’s increasingly hard to shock a jaded public – at least where deviant officials are concerned. Indeed, the reaction to Huang’s 46 mistresses has been studied nonchalance.
However, there may be more of an impact when revelations start to emerge from former railway minister Liu Zhijun’s trial. He allegedly took Rmb1 billion in bribes…
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