News / Asia

    Chinese Officials Accused of Holding Secret Parties

    A trainee walks pass a communist party logo as he attends a training course at the communist party school called China Executive Leadership Academy, Sept. 2012.
    A trainee walks pass a communist party logo as he attends a training course at the communist party school called China Executive Leadership Academy, Sept. 2012.
    China is acknowledging that some government officials have tried to avoid a crackdown on extravagance by holding secret sauna parties and hiding alcohol in plastic water bottles.

    The state-run People's Daily published a front-page commentary Wednesday warning officials against engaging in "underground" lavish lifestyles funded by public money.

    The article was published under the byline of He Yong - the same name as a high-ranking Chinese anti-corruption official.  It coincided with China's May Day holiday, which many Chinese typically celebrate with elaborate feasts.

    Deceptive behavior

    The newspaper said public discontent has grown in response to reports of Chinese officials holding sauna parties in farmhouses, pouring luxury liquor into water bottles and staging banquets in canteens to hide their conduct from supervision.

    Communications professor Zhou He of the City University of Hong Kong said he learned of similar deceptions while meeting Chinese officials for Lunar New Year dinners in February.

    "The holiday is usually an opportunity for Chinese officials and business people to meet," said Zhou, speaking by phone from Hong Kong. "There is always an exchange of favors and gestures to say thank you for help that has been delivered."

    The communications analyst also cited an example of a local official who tried to hide a lavish dinner from the public by staging it at a cafeteria in Shandong province earlier this year.

    He said protesters found out about the dinner and surrounded the cafeteria, forcing the official to apologize and causing him to be demoted in a case that drew wide interest from Chinese Internet users.

    The new Chinese Communist leadership that took office last year has vowed to reduce official extravagance and promote frugality to try to keep a lid on domestic anger about corruption.

    Zhou said many Chinese are used to local authorities finding "tricks" to get around central government orders. "What people hate more is the large amount of embezzlement among government officials," he said.

    Fighting corruption

    The People's Daily commentary called for the implementation of a "long-lasting" supervision system that will make corruption "not only detectable, but also impossible."

    Zhou said corruption cannot be eradicated while China's ruling Communist Party bans all political opposition and lacks an effective way to monitor itself. The party also has no laws requiring officials to publicly disclose their assets.

    "China's new leadership wants to have a cleaner party, but if its anti-corruption movement goes too far, it would hurt the legitimacy of the political structure," Zhou said.

    Michael Lipin

    Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

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