Citizen journalists in China have ousted a wasteful government official by reporting on a lavish party he threw paid for by government funds.
The Communist Party boss of and industrial zone in Taizhou City, Zhang Aihua, had developed a habit of extravagant parties, high spending, and glad-handing industrial representatives. Local residents had become so angry at the excess they stormed the entertainment center where Zhang held a gathering one week ago.
Jia Hongwei, a web forum administrator in Taizhou, saw the mob outside the building and investigated the scene. Jia brought his video camera and captured images of the expensive foods and wines that cluttered the tables of Zhang’s party scene and posted them online.
The crowd harangued the official until he mounted a table to beg for forgiveness through a megaphone. “I was wrong tonight. Please forgive me. I’ll do anything if you let me go,” he reportedly pleaded.
But it was blogger Jia that seems to have inspired the government to investigate the wasteful politician.
The Guardian reports that a viral online post chronicling the protest caught the Communist Party’s attention:
Jia stopped recording when he left at about 8pm. Yet three hours later, he was sent a photo of Zhang kneeling on the table, face contorted in distress, a loudhailer in his right hand. He posted both the photo and video online that night, and they quickly gained traction on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging service. Taizhou officials began investigating Zhang over the weekend.
Zhang Aihua was soon relieved of his position of power in Taizhou City.
Party officials in Beijing, led by newly-elected president Xi Jinping, are cracking down on corruption and wasteful spending by its own operatives, a reform campaign Zhang seemed to understand would target him the night he was confronted.
China experts, however, warn foreigners that this incident isn’t necessarily proof that Chinese officials have lessened their censorship of Internet activities. Steve Tsang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Nottingham, pointed out that in this incident the blogger’s activities dovetailed with the government’s aims.
“I think if and when they [bloggers] are seen as crossing a line, and are focused on challenging the party, or party rule, that would be a different matter,” Tsang said. “I think the clampdown would be quite tight.”