Last week, when many Chinese were wondering who would be the next big hit in the ongoing anti-corruption campaign, a China Central TV news program surprised almost everyone. The 14-minute report exposed the prostitutes in Dongguan, a city of nearly 7 million people situated at the center of southern China’s Guangdong Province.
Among the public, laughter was the order of the day. One of the most widely circulated jokes is, “Aiming at the tiger, the chickens got shot.” In modern Chinese, “chicken” refers to girls in a bad way. A “tiger” is a top official targeted by the anti-corruption campaign.
The head of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Guangdong Province, Hu Chunhua, reminded one of Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca. Renault professed himself “shocked” that gambling was going on in the club he visited nightly, just before he closed it.
After the TV program, Hu Chunhua immediately issued an order to crack down. Six thousand policemen raided hundreds of locations and made some arrests. Other cities followed.
Most Chinese netizens didn’t buy the show of law enforcement. One of the jokes circulating on the Internet is, “When the premier was concerned with the H7N9 bird flu, he issued an administrative order to deal with the chickens. Unfortunately, the order was sent to the Ministry of Public Security instead of the Ministry of Agriculture.”
There were also conspiracy theories. With some kind of internal power struggle always taking place at the top of the regime, any big issue can generate lots of speculation.
Some suggested that Hu Chunhua, the Guangdong Province Party chief, was the real target of the TV program. Some believed it had been aimed at Zhou Yongkang, the former domestic security tsar, and his faction, because there is no doubt that the police force provided protection for the sex business.
Nobody, however, believed the exposure on TV and the raid on the prostitutes were only about enforcing the law.
China Central TV (CCTV) itself is notorious for sex scandals. Li Dongsheng was a vice-minister of Public Security who, in early January, was taken down by Party central in its ongoing purge of members of the faction of former Party leader Jiang Zemin. Earlier in his career, Li was the vice director of CCTV and, in that role, a high-level pimp.
He used CCTV hostesses and female anchors as tools for sexual bribery. Zhou Yongkang’s current wife, Jia Xiaoye, is believed to have been a gift given by Li Dongsheng. Zhou allegedly had his first wife murdered so that he could marry Jia.
No wonder someone characterized CCTV’s exposure of the Dongguan prostitutes as a “vicious peer competition.”
The CCTV program, the reactions by the local officials, and the police raid taken together were a little disorienting. People wondered if they had not really understood the sex business in China.
Dongguan has been known as the Sex Capital of China for more than a decade. Now, Yan Xiaokang, the police chief of Dongguan, was removed for not doing his job well, together with the heads of six police subdivision stations.
The accusation is probably true, since CCTV reporters claimed that the police didn’t show up when they reported the illegal prostitution. But, frankly, what can a local police chief do when facing such a huge business backed by high-level officials and interest groups?
It is estimated that there are about 300,000 prostitutes in Dongguan. This doesn’t include the pimps, cab drivers, and other businesses that make their living off the sex trade.
At first, prostitution was only at the local level in China. More than 30 years ago, when China began economic reform, making money became the official slogan and was encouraged. Prostitution, as well as other illegal businesses, appeared alongside legitimate businesses.
The local police immediately realized that prostitution was a good way to get rich. They provided protection to the prostitutes. In exchange, the prostitutes or the pimps signaled the police when a rich customer visited.
In most situations, the rich customers were willing to pay a big fine to keep their names clean. Of course, those fines didn’t have invoices and would fall into the policemen’s own pockets. Some heads of state-owned enterprises even paid the “ransom” with company funds or company housing.
As the corruption developed along with the economy, extramarital sex became part of daily operations among officials of the Party and the state and among businessmen.
Powerful individuals and businesses directly invested in this business. Many famous high-rated hotels and clubs are actually sex-related businesses. For example, up until 2010, the prostitutes at Beijing’s Heaven on Earth nightclub served many officials at the provincial and ministry level.
This time, in Dongguan, it was reported that some four-star and five-star hotels were also involved. The owner of one of the hotels is a representative of the National People’s Congress.
The local police managed to extort protection fees from prostitutes on the street and in small brothels, but for businesses like five-star hotels and night clubs, the local police acted more like hired personal guards. The police and the local officials became part of the profit chain.
Punishing the Good
In China, prostitution is definitely illegal, but the laws and the law enforcement are not always the same. Actually, they mostly conflict with each other.
For example, the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but someone who dares to practice this freedom has a very good chance of turning up in jail.
Freedom of religion is the same. If a Falun Gong practitioner refuses to give up his belief, he is almost certain to be put in a jail or labor camp.
The CCP has developed a very sophisticated system to make sure that everyone knows how to survive or even make a profit by following the Party’s will, not the laws.
One of the methods is the unwritten rule of “rewarding the evil and punishing the good.”
In China, most corrupt officials are promoted after their crimes are well-known by those around them. Their victims or their colleagues may even have reported some of their wrongdoings to the higher authorities. Yet, they are still promoted, either because they serve higher officials well or they are on the side of “political correctness.”
Li Dongsheng was both. Li Dongsheng provided many young women to officials at the central leadership level, including Zhou Yongkang’s wife and Cao Jianming’s wife. Cao Jianming is the procurator-general of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.
When Li Dongsheng was the deputy director of CCTV, he was already notorious for corruption and sexual bribery. But that didn’t prevent him from being promoted to be the deputy chief of the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television, and then the deputy chief of the Propaganda Department of the CCP Central Committee.
When the announcement came that Li Dongsheng was being investigated, most media, both inside and outside China, tended to focus on his CCTV position and to avoid how he had been politically correct.
When Li Dongsheng was the deputy director of CCTV, he held another position, beginning in June 1999, as the deputy director of the 610 Office of CCP Central Committee. The 610 Office is the Party organ charged with eradicating the spiritual discipline of Falun Gong. Because he held that position, Li Dongsheng was politically correct, and his corruption gave him an advantage over other officials.
As the deputy director of the Central 610 Office in charge of propaganda, Li Dongsheng carried out the policy of “punishing the good” on Falun Gong practitioners. He unleashed through the state-run media overwhelming slander against those who live according to the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance and want to be good persons.
That propaganda set an example for the Chinese people not to be good, and the whole society realized that to be a good person is a crime in China. At the same time, society could see that sex scandals and corruption are practically allowed and even encouraged by the CCP rulers.
Corruption, including sexual corruption, has lubricated Chinese economic development and the CCP’s rule. It appeared in Deng Xiaoping’s era, but flourished under the rule of Jiang Zemin, who headed the party from 1989 to 2002.
Jiang Zemin used corruption as a weapon to control officials and enhance his own political power. By encouraging corruption, Jiang enticed officials to obey him to gain personal profit. By selectively prosecuting corruption, Jiang helped eliminate his enemies.
Sex scandals have become part of the Party’s rule. It’s just like a cancer that has spread to all important organs. There is no cure.