On one June evening, 3 judges from Shanghai’s Higher People’s Court and 1 court official decided to have some fun. Together, they went to Hengshan Resort in Shanghai’s Pudong district, a designated hotel for government officials with gyms, saunas and a karaoke and hostess bar. They then hired some prostitutes and stayed behind closed doors for about an hour.
All would have been fine if they weren’t captured by the hotel’s surveillance camera and that video wasn’t obtained and posted online by whistleblower Ni Peiguo. Within days, “Shanghai judges went whoring together” had gone viral. As of now, 3 of the 4 officials involved were expelled from the party and removed from their posts. One was put on a 2-year probation.
The scandal itself, in a country like China where corrupt officials get exposed almost on a daily basis, isn’t particularly surprising. The most interesting aspect of the case is what and how people talk about it.
The focus isn’t the fact that 3 judges, supposedly the safeguards of law, went out to pick up prostitutes, an illegal act in China. People hardly get excited about judges seeking sexual services while there are officials who were expelled for supporting 47 mistresses or taking more than RMB 870 million in bribes.
Much of the online chatter, surprisingly, is about how the whistleblower has successfully taken his revenge. Many called him “le Comte de China.”
The 55-year-old businessman Ni Peiguo who compiled and posted the video clip is after deputy chief judge Zhao Minghua. Ni suspected that Zhao exerted unfair rulings in a commercial suit that had cost him a major financial loss. He then started his year-long sleuthing until he followed Zhao and 3 other officials to the resort in June.
Ni described himself as being extremely healthy, patient and persistent, which all contributed to his successful revenge.
“From Money to Thursday, I would start [trailing Zhao] after work. On Fridays, I’d start around noon. On Saturdays and Sundays, I basically just wait outside his home the whole day.” Ni described how he had followed Zhao in the past year.
Ni’s non-violent way of seeking justice won him a lot of admirers online. 袁莉wsj, chief editor at the Chinese version of the Wall Street Journal, commented: “No appeal and no kneeling down. It’s admirable to use cameras and social media to take revenge.”
In recently years, in the absence of a working channel for appeal, Chinese petitioners who decided to resort to violence to get attention are on the rise. In the past 2 months alone, we’ve already observed two such cases. In June, a 59-year-old man exploded a rush-hour bus in the city of Xiamen after being denied his state pension. 47 people died in that blaze. Last month, a man in a wheelchair detonated a small bomb at Beijing International Airport Terminal 3 after petitioning for years in vain against local police who beat him and caused his disability.
In both cases, the petitioners have been depicted as some sort of grass-root heroes who dared to stand up and challenge oppression. When legal appeals don’t work and petitioners are more often than not thrown into labor camps, violent act in public seems to have become the most effective way to get attention from both the public and the authorities. Ni’s non-violent revenge, undoubtedly, offers a new possibility.
Popular online liberal voice 老徐时评 summarized what netizens have learnt from Ni’s case: “1) No petitioning, suicide, airport violence or bomb threats after being wronged. 2) Respect the rulings even when he thought they were unfair. 3) Brave and yet very careful in his sleuthing. No harassment. 4) Exposure only after he has obtained hard evidence.”
“If those who have received unfair rulings all become Sherlock Holmes, then corrupt officials will have nowhere to hide.” He continued.
Many netizens thought that Ni’s way of seeking justice is effective and smart. One netizen 余耕 commented: “The whistleblower’s strategy is worth promoting across the country. As long as one is persistent enough, he or she will eventually get enough evidence to defeat those corrupt officials. All of those who have been wronged, pick up your camera and take action!”
Will this become the start of China’s own non-violent disobedience movement? Many netizens wish so.