Tea Leaf Nation
Fresh Scandal at China’s Most Notorious Technical School
Lanxiang is known for training beauticians, chefs -- and hackers. Now it's back in the headlines.
The founder of a military-linked Chinese vocational school at the center of an international cyber-spying scandal a few years ago is back in the headlines. This time, Rong Lanxiang, a 50-year-old from central China’s Henan province, is embroiled in a series of embarrassing personal revelations that will almost certainly end with him being expelled from the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s legislature. Rong, a farmer turned entrepreneur, is well known in China for establishing the Lanxiang Vocational School in Jinan, the capital of coastal Shandong province. The school, which used to partner with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and still leases buildings from the military, shot to international notoriety in February 2010 after the New York Times cited it as one of two Chinese schools linked to spying and hack attacks on Google and other U.S. corporations. Back when the story broke, Lanxiang denied those allegations. An instructor from the school’s computer department was quoted by the Times saying Lanxiang students had low-level educations, and weren’t sophisticated enough to pull off high-level network incursions. (The Times was also careful to note that linking the attacks to computers at Lanxiang didn’t necessarily mean that’s where the attacks originated.)
What Lanxiang (and another school in Shanghai) had allegedly been up to was a campaign "aimed at stealing trade secrets and computer codes and capturing e-mail of Chinese human rights activists," the Times wrote. Many in China scoffed; the dissonance between the cloak-and-dagger intrigue described in the international press and the school’s rudimentary course offerings struck many as amusing. While Lanxiang does offer computer classes, it is better known as a training ground for beauticians, chefs, and bulldozer operators. The school has also been the butt of online jokes because of its hyper-enthusiastic television commercials featuring rousing music, aerial shots, and vigorous sloganeering by star spokesperson Tang Guoqiang, an actor known for portraying late Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong.
Now, Lanxiang is back in the headlines, and not for cyber-spying. Rong, the school’s founder, is under fire for alleged domestic abuse, tax evasion, use of fake IDs, and flouting the country’s strict family planning rules. His wife has also accused him of sending thugs from his school to attack his father-in-law. Much of the scandal is revolves around tit-for-tat mudslinging between Rong and his wife, both of whom have found an eager microphone in the scandal-mongering Chinese press. Rong’s wife says he has a son with his mistress, abused her for most of their marriage, and dodged taxes. Because Rong is a delegate to the NPC, and because of the lingering cyber-spying allegations, the dirty laundry could prove highly embarrassing for the ruling Communist Party. On Oct. 25 the China Daily, an English-language government mouthpiece, published what appeared to be a half-hearted attempt to defend Rong and his school’s reputation arguing that online rumors and irresponsible media were pushing the "premier technical training school to the brink of disaster."
The school denies the tax evasion allegations, but Rong admits that he and his wife did secretly have six children, violating China’s strict family planning limits, which currently allow one child for urban couples and two children for rural families. The businessman is almost certain to face a hefty fine — film director Zhang Yimou was fined $1.2 million in January for having three children – and could also lose his position as an NPC delegate. On Nov. 1 the state-run Beijing News quoted a Rong saying he was "very sorry" for his violations. "Because we exceeded the birth limits, several children can’t openly refer to me as ‘Dad,’ and this makes me feel very ashamed," he added. Rong’s wife, Kong Suying, told the state-run Beijing Evening News that the couple had four daughters in a row and had to keep trying because her husband wanted sons so badly. Some of the children were linked to their parents fake IDs while others were registered as children of Rong’s brother. Meanwhile, Rong claims his wife is a cult member.
On China’s Twitter-like Weibo social network, netizens collectively shook their heads over the scandal. One wrote, "A loser who insists on having a son; this is peasant thinking. Don’t expect much from a technical school under the guidance of someone with this mentality." More than a few offered plays on Lanxiang’s well-known slogan, "Who’s the best at teaching bulldozing? China’s Shandong Lanxiang!" A few years ago, the joke inserted the language "Who’s the best at hacking?" instead. It was easy to update for the latest scandal: "Who’s the best at busting birth limits? China’s Shandong Lanxiang!"