Corruption scandals in China have long been packaged with sexual indiscretion. For almost every fallen official there are tales of paramours, sometimes too numerous to seem plausible. Liu Zhijun, the former Railway Minister who is awaiting trial on corruption allegations, was reported to have had 18 mistresses. Shanghai Communist Party secretary Chen Liangyu, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2008 for accepting massive bribes, was accused by the party leadership of being a morally decadent philanderer who traded “power for sexual favors.” When Bo Xilai, the purged former leader of the southwestern city of Chongqing, was ejected from the Communist Party in September, the allegation that he had “improper relationships” with several women was the least shocking development after months of revelations about corruption, murder and abuse of power.
So when a municipal official in Chongqing was caught up in a sex-and-corruption scandal last week, the only surprise was the order of the revelations — first the sex, then the corruption — and the level of detail. Lei Zhengfu, the Communist Party secretary of Chongqing’s Beibei district, was removed from his office on Friday pending an official investigation, but not before he became widely known in China as the balding, bug-eyed, body-built-by-banquets star of a sex tape that circulated widely online last week. The 36-second video is unforgettable in the worst sense of the word. Even casual users of social media in China were subjected to repeated appearances of the naked Lei with a then 18-year-old mistress.
The tape was released by journalist Zhu Ruifeng, who said the video was shot in 2007, when Lei was deputy party secretary of the Beibei district. The story spread quickly online after another journalist, Ji Xuguang, wrote about it and forwarded images on the Sina Weibo microblog. Zhu, who runs a Hong Kong–based anticorruption website, told the Beijing Times, a Communist Party–owned newspaper, that he received the video from a Chongqing police source. The police source told Zhu the video had been produced under the orders of a property developer who wanted to blackmail Lei. Lei passed on the video to police and asked them to investigate the attempted blackmail. Zhu told the newspaper that Lei’s brother Lei Zhengkui had been involved in a series of construction projects in Chongqing districts where Lei Zhengfu was in office, and that Lei Zhengfu had amassed large sums by channeling work to relatives. Zhu told the Communist Party–owned Global Times newspaper that he has five more sex tapes of Chongqing officials, which he will release once identities are confirmed.
The Lei scandal comes as Xi Jinping, who replaced Hu Jintao as China’s Communist Party General Secretary earlier this month, has warned about the dangers of graft, telling a meeting of the new Politburo that “corruption could kill the party and ruin the country.” In an oblique reference to the Arab Spring, he said corruption in other countries “has led to popular discontent, social unrest and the overthrow of the political power.” Publicizing the Lei scandal could help Xi with any new anticorruption drive. It also adds to the case against Bo, who had authority over Lei during his time as the Chongqing party secretary. But further exposure of official corruption will prove difficult. China blocked the English and Chinese websites of the New York Times in October after the paper published an investigation into the wealth accrued by the family of Premier Wen Jiabao. And the website of Bloomberg remains blocked after the news service wrote about hundreds of millions in investments held by the family of Xi himself.