Chinese social media users slam state media for failure to expose sex abuses

Zhao's abuse of the women who worked for him have left many asking which officials may have colluded.
By Wang Yun
Chinese social media users slam state media for failure to expose sex abuses Shanghai brothel owner Zhao Fuqiang is shown in an undated photo.

Social media users have been berating China state-owned media, which is tightly controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), over their failure to report on a deepening scandal surrounding a jailed Shanghai entrepreneur who raped and enslaved women, holding them captive in a brothel for the rich and famous.

Zhao Fuqiang, a former tailor who started out forcing rural women to work in low-cost brothels disguised as hair salons in Shanghai, before expanding to offer a glitzy bordello experience to higher-end clients, was sentenced to a suspended death sentence in September 2020 for rape and other offenses.

But the full horror of his "Red Mansion," described in recent media exposes as a "hell on earth built from the blood and tears of women," has only just been made known, prompting social media users to demand why state media has so far remained silent on the story.

According to the articles, Zhao would lure women to the brothel for "job interviews," sometimes raping them, forcing them to have sex with his clients, and threatening to make public videos and photos of these encounters, should they try to leave. He also forcibly harvested their eggs and sold them on the black market, leaving at least one woman infertile due to botched procedures.

"You didn't dare to report on the Red Mansion story in Shanghai ... instead you just keep banging on about the U.S. and the U.K. the whole time," user @harpistwhopedals wrote under a story posted by the CCP's official newspaper, the People's Daily, on Tuesday.

"This country is getting more and more like North Korea; you really take us for fools."

User @AL De Niro agreed.

"Leave the BBC alone," they said under a People's Daily post about criticism of the U.K. broadcaster from foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.

"No-one cares about them; everyone cares about when your newspaper will speak out on behalf of [the victims of] the Red Mansion in Shanghai!"

User @yutianzuilekounaigair wondered if the media really was on the side of victims, and the least powerful in society.

"The media, in the final analysis, is a part of the system that rules over us, and represents the will of the powers that be," the user wrote. "I really feel that we have a long, long way to go to being civilized, democratic and equal."

"The media has lost its voice, and the platforms are pulling hot search topics, all about a huge crime story that everyone already knows about, because it breaks the relevant regulations."

Methods of coercion, control

A user with the handle @Worry-free sister called on women to ignore attempts to use slut-shaming as a method of coercion and control.

"Countless female murder cases have shown us that men can do whatever they want with their victims, just because they have taken nude photos or videos of them," the user wrote, citing the Shanghai Red Mansions case.

@Take the moonlight 22V added: "So far, neither the Women's Daily, the People's Daily nor CCTV news have had a single report on this."

Some said they were afraid to be critical, while @qimoshanrenruyushenglizhe commented: "Don't be afraid. I am posting too. We are in the right. If everyone stays silent, then this country is finished."

@Pogalazi commented: "Nowadays all the news media and movies we can see just preach politically correct content, and yet there is all this complicated stuff going under under the so-called beauty."

"Such a network of dark forces and vested interests."

Zhao was found guilty of rape, organized prostitution, fraud and "forced transactions," by the Shanghai No. 2 Intermediate People's Court on Sept. 22, 2020, as well as a host of property-related rule-breaking and bribing local officials.

He was handed a death sentence suspended for two years, which typically gets commuted to life imprisonment, while his accomplices were handed jail terms ranging from two years and six months to 20 years, state media reported at the time.

But while online comments seemed to focus their ire on state media, many others were asking how such an operation could have flown under the radar of law enforcement for so long.

On Dec. 6, user @blueprinttone commented: "This is fucking 2021!!! In Shanghai!!! That metropolis with its big surveillance net to protect everyone!!!!."

"Now they've pulled the hot search topic, I heard," the user wrote. "Who is responsible for those women held under house arrest by Zhao Fuqiang, who were abused and turned into sex slaves, had their eggs harvested ... and for the innocent kids born as a result?"

Among those who were jailed alongside Zhao were former Yangpu District Committee standing committee member Lu Yan, who headed the district branch of the CCP's powerful legal and political affairs committee, which directs law enforcement agencies, and Ren Yongfei, a former president of the Yangpu District People's Court, who sheltered him.

Criminals, police often tied

A former cop from the southern city of Guangzhou, who gave only the nickname Alex, said close ties between the criminal underworld and local law enforcement aren't uncommon in China.

And yet, the Shanghai case still shocked him, he told RFA in a recent interview.

"If I'm honest, there was a cop in Guangzhou 10 years ago who was involved in something similar, but it was nowhere near as bad as this," Alex said. "This case kind of blocked out the sun, it was so huge."

"From the point of view of the local police, it's hard to see why they would take such a huge risk for a pimp, for so little benefit."

A former Shanghai police officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that once local officials have themselves become implicated in such operations, either as clients, or for accepting bribes to look the other way, the ties that bind them can persist for many years.

"People are ruled by emotion, and after more than 10 years of conditioning, it's easy to get them [on board]," the person said. "After that, it becomes entrenched, and all kinds of vested interests get entangled in it."

"[Zhao] must have spent a long time operating in Yangpu District, to the point where he had all of his connections where he wanted them, including his intelligence networks," the former Shanghai police officer said. "At a certain point, [Zhao] must have felt omnipotent."

To run his underworld empire for more than a decade, Zhao must have co-opted not just police officers, but judges, members of the CCP's political and legal affairs network, and government officials, including from local industry and commerce bureaus, the former Shanghai cop said.

"It’s definitely not enough to sort out the local Public Security Bureau alone," they said. 

"You would need to get other legal and political agencies on side too, including the courts, and the prosecutor's office."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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