An order was issued Tuesday for the destruction of hundreds of thousands of copies of a local newspaper in southwestern Yunnan province after it reported on an official’s taste for luxury accessories, according to sources at the paper.
The destroyed edition of Dushi Shibao, or Metropolitan Times, carried a story describing Li Dejin, the head of communications of southeastern China’s Fujian provincial office, as flaunting a 50,000 yuan (U.S. $8,000) diamond watch and a 13,000 yuan (U.S. $2,000) leather belt.
Metropolitan Times publisher and editor-in-chief Zhou Zhishen said in a tweet on the Sina Weibo microblogging site that he was devastated when he found hundreds of thousands of copies of the newspaper with the story were destroyed before they hit newsstands on Tuesday morning.
He did not identify the parties who ordered the destruction of the newspapers.
“I first started working in the media in Fujian and since then I have never experienced such anger and shamefulness,” he said, blaming the destroyed papers on the interference of corrupt “black hands.”
The story also did not appear in the newspaper’s online edition on Tuesday, indicating that it may have been removed.
A staff member at the Metropolitan Times contacted by RFA said the newspaper may issue a statement about it.
“We are still in discussion about how to handle the incident and there is no concrete conclusion,” she said.
“If you want to know the most updated situation and details on the incident, I suggest you look at the Weibo account of Zhou Zhishen,” she said, adding that work was continuing at the paper as usual.
A staffer at the Communications Department of the Fujian provincial office refused to comment on the destruction of the newspapers, but denied that officials in the department such as Li received salaries high enough to afford luxury items.
“What is the good in verifying [the story]? They just saw the picture from the Internet photos,” he said, referring to online reports on Li’s income and his wearing of the expensive watch and belt.
“I want to ask, our salaries in Fujian are very low already—how could an official have 160,000 or 170,000 yuan [U.S. $25,000 or $27,000] in income?” he said.
The article about Li’s luxury tastes prompted heated discussion on China’s microblogs, where netizens have turned to vent their anger about official corruption and a string of high-profile incidents involving officials flaunting luxury items they could not afford on their salaries.
Last month, Shaanxi provincial chief Yang Dacai was sacked for “inappropriate smiling behavior” and “wearing many name-brand watches” after he was photographed grinning at the scene of a fatal road accident, prompting netizens to dig up photos of his luxury timepiece collection.
In July, the Chinese government instituted a new “frugal working style” rule for civil servants that went into effect at the beginning of this month, barring officials from spending public money on lavish banquets or fancy cars and from accepting expensive gifts.
Reported by Wen Yuqin for RFA’s Cantonese service. Translated by Shiny Li. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.