There are enough brothels in Beijing to make the average punter think that the authorities don’t regard the sex trade – which is technically criminal – as a serious offence.
That is, of course, unless you happen to be a liberal-leaning blogger with more than 12 million followers on China’s Twitter-like service Sina Weibo.
Sixty-year old Charles Xue, or Xue Manzi, as he is better known, was arrested last Friday night on suspicion of soliciting sex. The Chinese-born US citizen, who is best-known for his canny investments and philanthropy, happened to be in the company of a 22 year-old named Ms Zhang, a police statement said.
Xue’s detention came shortly after other internet personalities – several of whom have called for more transparency from the authorities – were taken into custody on accusations of rumour-mongering.
And another online opinion leader was also sent a warning shot last week when his blog was clearly identified in a TV programme about the danger of online rumours. The blog belonged to Lee Kai-fu, the former head of Google in China, who has commented previously on sensitive political and social issues.
Earlier this month Beijing announced its intention to “crackdown” on online rumours as part a Xi Jinping’s ‘mass line’ campaign, which is aimed (among other things) at rekindling the study of Communist ideology.
“The spreading of rumours on the internet and other such criminal activities has become a social nuisance that infringes the vital interests of citizens, disrupts public order and endangers social stability,” a statement on the Public Security Bureau website said.
The Bureau said that it was alerted to the problem by members of the public upset by rumours that the Maoist icon Lei Feng didn’t live as simply as official propaganda claimed.
Qin Zhihui and Yang Xiuyu, founders of a company accused of spreading that speculation, were detained last Thursday, it said, for “making a profit from spreading online rumours”.
Liu Hu, a journalist at the Guangzhou-based New Express newspaper, was also detained on Saturday night on the same charge, according to state media.
On Sunday it was reported that Zhou Lubao, a citizen journalist, had been arrested for supposedly extorting money from temples by threatening to write negative stories about them online.
“The masses and public opinion require that such people be punished,” the People’s Daily advised. “It is urgent that we purify the internet environment.”
Although there have been several campaigns to rein in social media before – real name registration on weibo last year, for example – this is the first such drive under the new president, Xi Jinping. The suspicion is that the government will now take a tougher line with some of the more contentious celebrities, who are known as ‘big V’ colloquially (the ‘v’ stands for ‘verified’ in the sense that the celebrities put their own names to their online opinions).
Earlier this month, the head of the State Internet Information Office, which monitors online content, called a meeting of ‘big V’ bloggers and urged them to be more constructive in their postings. Xue Manzi, who recently ridiculed a Shanghai official for soliciting prostitutes, may now be getting the message rather more forcefully, with state broadcaster CCTV showing him in his prison fatigues, as well as his confession that he has consorted with call girls in China and on trips overseas (“bad habits”, he admits).
Xinhua has been quick to offer a view as well, reporting comments from a prostitute that Xue had “special obsessions” and (even worse) sometimes refused to pay.
Xue’s case is a reminder to those who challenge the government that they can expect closer scrutiny, said Hu Xijin, editor of the state-owned Global Times. “If you go down this road, your arse had better be clean,” Hu warned on his own weibo.
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