Chinese girl shows off wealth, lands in trouble

These past few weeks, China's attention has been squarely focused on the grand 90th anniversary celebrations of the Communist Party. In recent days, however, the spotlight has shifted to an unlikely candidate — a 20-year-old girl with a taste for the high life.

In a photograph posted on her microblog, Guo Meimei posed in front of her sparkling white Maserati sports car. In other pictures, she displayed her designer handbag collection, showed off her villa and sipped a drink in an airplane's business class.

All par for the course for China's newly-wealthy “ fu er dai”, or rich second-generation, whose members are famous for flaunting their wealth at any given opportunity.

Where Ms. Guo was different was in revealing her job description — she claimed she was the business general manager at the government's biggest charity organisation, the Red Cross Society of China.

The microblog has triggered widespread outrage, with many netizens seeing it as the latest evidence of corruption in officialdom.

Statements from the Chinese Red Cross denying Ms. Guo ever worked for them have done little to soothe public anger, amid already high distrust of official charities following a string of recent scandals.

In April, the Chinese Red Cross was at the centre of a storm after an invoice detailing lavish dinners hosted by a local branch found its way online. It showed that staff at a Shanghai office had spent 9,859 yuan (Rs.69,013) on a single dinner. The organisation is now being investigated for overspending and for misallocating funds.

The Guo Meimei case, scholars say, has further eroded public trust, though many facts of the case remain unclear. Ms. Guo has, in recent days, issued a statement apologising for tarnishing the image of the Chinese Red Cross, stressing she had never worked for them.

Her statement, however, failed to quell rumours about her ties to an official working for a government department responsible for managing charity organisations, even as bloggers speculated about the source of her wealth. An organised netizen “investigation” found that as recently as in 2008, Ms. Guo's blog revealed a simple life in a modest apartment — no Lamborghinis and designer clothes.

“The Guo Meimei incident…is really the explosion of doubts about the Red Cross Society of China built up among the public over many years,” read a commentary in the Beijing News. “In any country, charity work touches on the raw nerves of the nation. No one can tolerate the abuse of charity for self-gain or its being embezzled away. This is something people find impossible not to be furious about.”

The case has prompted calls for reform. “Scandals on China's charity organisations arise from the official monopoly system that is still in its place,” Yuan Weishi, a professor at Zhongshan University, wrote on his blog. “It's time for institutional reform for charity organisations.”

Until there were reforms and the case was cleared up, people should refrain from donating, added Yu Jianrong, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“I have always suspected the efficiency of the Chinese Red Cross,” He Zining, an economics student at Beijing Jiaotong University, told The Hindu. “After this, I will not give money to such organisations but will only hand it over directly to those who are in need.”

The Guo Meimei case has also highlighted how the Internet is increasingly shaping public debate in China. After taking Chinese social media networks by storm, with more than a hundred thousand users on the Sina Weibo microblog, a Chinese equivalent of Twitter, sharing Ms. Guo's story, the case has also forced State-run media to respond.

The Communist Party's official newspaper, the People's Daily, interrupted a series of celebratory editorials marking the party's anniversary with a warning that “the charity cause cannot bear any more damage, and neither can the public's benevolence”.

Much of the criticism online went beyond anger at the Red Cross and charities to the larger problem of official corruption, which, President Hu Jintao warned on Saturday, was a problem that needed to be tackled to ensure the 90-year-old Party's very “survival”.

On Tianya, a popular web portal, a user remarked that anger at a 20-year-old girl was misplaced when corruption by government officials was widely accepted.

But within hours, the comment, as well as dozens of similar ones, vanished without a trace.

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Printable version | May 16, 2021 8:01:41 PM |

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