China's Most Effective Whistleblowers? Mistresses

15 percent of people reporting corruption are the disgruntled “other women” of wealthy and powerful men.
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(Reuters/Bobby Yip)

Hell hath no fury: 15 percent of whistleblowers who reported cases of Chinese government corruption via the internet over the past year were the unhappy mistresses of party officials.

That figure, from an analysis by the Legal Daily, a publication run by China’s Ministry of Justice, comes with an important caveat: it’s based on a sample of what the publication deems 26 “typical cases” of real-name public reporting. But regardless of the methodology, the study underlines the role that China’s “other women,” (or “little third” as they’re commonly called) are playing in the country’s campaign to rein in graft. ”In China nothing is clear,” Zhu Ruifeng, a blogger whose anti-corruption website features some of the salacious testimonies of these women, told the BBC. “The public don’t know what officials are up to. But mistresses live with government officials, they spend their money, they know about everything that goes on.”

Because these often doomed relationships are so common among officials—they’re even fueling the country’s property bubble—it seems inevitable that ex-flames could turn into angry whistleblowers. A spate of officials have recently lost their jobs because of their extra-marital dalliances. In May, a government energy official was fired after his mistress told Chinese media he had embezzled $200 million from Chinese banks. Last year, a married district-level official in Chongqing stepped down after a a sex tape was released that showed him with a young woman.

As much as mistresses symbolize the excess and sense of entitlement of China’s elites, they also represent a small group of Chinese citizens refusing be cast off by these powerful men. “The mistresses of officials have become a force of whistle-blowers that cannot be ignored,” the Legal Daily observed, forming a constituency with the potential to organize and protest. A forum for “little third” women features advice on how to get your “man to love you more” but also posts that say, “There’s unity in strength, we should act together and help each other.”

Take 26 year-old Ji Yingnan, who discovered her purported fiancee, an official with China’s state administration of archives, was married with a teenage son. In addition to posting hundreds of photos of the two online, she handed out CDs of the pictures in front of the gates of Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of China’s Communist Party, and detailed the extent of his lavish spending on her to Western and Chinese media. (He bought her an Audi and would stuff as much as $1,000 in her purse every day when they first met.) ”People’s awareness is becoming stronger,” she told the Washington Post. “People won’t believe what they’re told as easily. In the era of the Internet, the government cannot hide things from people.” The official was soon sacked.

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Lily Kuo is a reporter at Quartz covering emerging markets.

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