China's six biggest political sex scandals.
- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is Asia editor at Foreign Policy, where he edits, reports, and writes stories from across the region. Previously a Beijing correspondent for Newsweek, Isaac wrote stories on such subjects as the Dalai Lama’s effect on international trade, China’s love affair with rogue states, and crystal meth in North Korea, a country he has visited twice. A fluent Mandarin speaker, Isaac spent seven years living in China prior to joining FP; he has traveled widely in the region and in China. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, BBC, NPR, Al-Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
On Friday, after months of furious speculation in the Western press and on Chinese social media, Xinhua, China’s official news agency, finally announced that former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai had been expelled from the Communist Party, opening him up for prosecution and potentially a lengthy prison sentence.
Most of the official accusations against Bo are unsurprising. "Bo abused his power, made severe mistakes and bore major responsibility in the Wang Lijun incident," the report reads, in a reference to his former police chief who fled to the U.S. Consulate in February, "and the intentional homicide case of Bogu Kailai" — a reference to his wife, convicted in August of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood. He "seriously violated Party disciplines" as mayor and party secretary of Dalian, commerce minister, and Chongqing party chief, and "took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family," according to Xinhua.
In the middle of the list of charges is the following accusation: "Bo had or maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women." As with the other accusations, Xinhua doesn’t elaborate, and Bo’s alleged unfaithfulness to his wife hardly seems relevant. So what if he was getting some on the side?
But the Communist Party has long held an ambivalent view toward the sex life of its mandarins, dating back the mixed-up mores of its founder, Mao Zedong. Before emphasizing the importance of marriage and the family, Mao flirted with publicly advocating sex "as casual as drinking a glass of water" — a philosophy he later took up in his private life.
Nowadays, as long as party officials remain loyal and keep their bedroom behavior private, sex is a personal matter. But once they fall, the curtain surrounding their private lives falls with them.
The significance of the charges against Bo thus lies not in their accuracy, but in the Communist Party’s decision to use salaciousness to discredit him. As June Teufel Dreyer, a professor of political science at the University of Miami, told Bloomberg News, it fits a pattern "wherein the party decided that no one should be portrayed as having elements of both good and evil within them — they were either wholly devoted to the party and the people or wholly evil and against them." The following is a list of six officials, high and low, who have been exposed:
1. Chen Liangyu
The previous Politburo member sacked, former Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu, who fell in 2006, was accused of the same dissolution as Bo. In an August 2007 article in Chinese state media entitled "Since Ancient Times, Corrupt Officials Have Been Very Lusty, Also a Characteristic of Today’s "Corrupt and Lusty" (Officials)," the author cites the results of an investigation into Chen’s background. Not only did he cause a "endanger the safety of the social security fund," but he was "morally corrupt, using the power of his position to philander with females, trading power for sex." Details of Chen’s rumored mistresses remained scant, but he’s not alone: A report in 2007 by China’s top prosecutor’s office, cited by ABC News, "disclosed that 14 out of 16 senior leaders punished in major graft cases since 2002 were involved in ‘trading power for sex’ — the official code for having one or more mistresses."
2. Lin Longfei
Generally speaking, the lower-ranking the official, the more granular the details that emerge. After Chen’s downfall, a netizen created "The Guinness [World] Records of Mistresses." The winner of the "Creativity Award" is Lin Longfei, the former party secretary of Zhouning County in South China’s Fujian Province. He reportedly invited his 22 mistresses to a banquet, and announced a biannual cash award to whichever women would provide him with the greatest satisfaction that year. This met with a "warm round of applause," writes the original blogger. China’s official media doesn’t go into that much detail on Lin’s alleged antics, but uses language remarkably similar to the rap sheet against Bo. A February 2005 People’s Daily article stating that Lin had been sentenced to death for corruption claims that "Lin maintained long-term improper sexual relations with a number of women."
3. Zhang Xiaochuan
Rivaling Lin in sheer cheek is the case of Zhang Xiaochuan, former deputy head of Chongqing municipality’s propaganda department who was arrested in 2005 for corruption. Reports released after the case claim that Zhang, nicknamed "major thief flower picker" and "the coolest Radio TV bureau head," had more than 30 lovers in the Radio and TV bureau. One of his paramours supposedly went from being a nurse to the host of an arts and culture show, while another magically rose from kindergarten teacher to the head of the personnel division of a cable network company.
4. Xie Caiping
Scandalous allegations are not reserved only for men who cross the line. During Bo Xilai’s crackdown on organized crime in Chongqing, judges sentenced a 46-year-old woman named Xie Caiping to 18 years in prison for running illegal gambling halls. Xie, the sister-in-law of the deputy police commissioner, has been called "the godmother of the Chongqing underworld." The most salacious rumor about her case: She was said to have kept a stable of 16 young men as her lovers. The Chongqing Evening News described her co-defendant and "confirmed lover" Luo Xuan, 26, as a "bright and valiant lad," with a "good tolerance for alcohol and a sweet mouth."
5. Liu Zhijun
In February 2011, five months before a high-speed train crash killed 40 people in Wenzhou and prompted much soul-searching about the state of China’s railways industry, railways minister Liu Zhijun was sacked for "disciplinary violation." An article entitled "Sex, Power, Money," published in July 2011 in the nationalist tabloid the Global Times, claims that Liu "was reported to have 18 mistresses, including actresses, nurses and train stewards. He apparently had a thing for women in uniform or those who could play the role." Afterwards, a directive from the Central Propaganda Bureau warned, "All media are not to report or hype the news that Liu Zhijun had 18 mistresses."
6. Mao Zedong
As with most things in China, in the realm of mistresses, no one compares to the Great Helmsman. According to his private doctor and author of the biography The Private Life of Chairman Mao, Mao slept with hundreds, if not thousands of women. "At the height of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, he and [his wife] Jiang Qing were sexually estranged, but Mao had no problems with the young women he brought to his bed — their numbers increasing and their average ages declining as Mao attempted to add years to his life according to the imperial formula," whereby sleeping with young women is said to enhance the ruler’s vitality and longevity. Dr. Li treated women who contracted the STD trichomoniasis from Mao, writing, "The young women were proud to be infected," because the illness was a "badge of honor, testimony to their close relations with the Chairman."