| Global Times | 2012-11-27 20:25:05
By Tom Fearon
The time-honored adage "sex sells" has been proven in the media over the past week since the Lei Zhengfu sex tape surfaced online. The video showed Lei, a district Party chief from Chongqing sacked in the wake of the scandal, surreptitiously caught in the act with his 18-year-old mistress in 2007.
There is a certain sense of schadenfreude that comes from reading about politicians embroiled in sex scandals. Lei's case is perhaps more bemusing than anything else given his glorious comb-over, menacing carp eye stare and uncanny resemblance to Mr Toad from The Wind and the Willows.
But what about the woman at the center of the scandal?
It was inevitable in the Weibo Dynasty that her identity would be revealed sooner rather than later. On Monday, the world was introduced to Zhao Hongxia through a series of photos of her pulling sultry, yet by no means uncommon, poses that dominate most social networking websites.
Popular expat-oriented China blog Shanghaiist was quick to upload her photos - a move that drew barbed responses from some Web users, who questioned whether it was necessary to name and shame a teenage mistress.
She was a "victim of institutionalized, socially accepted rape," one Web user claimed on the blog's Facebook page - a statement that was countered with equal passion from others who denounced her in harsh terms, hinting she had a promising career in the future as an auto show promo model.
Zhao is the latest in a long line of young maidens thrust, willingly or not, into the public spotlight from political sex scandals. However, it should be remembered that this sex tape was leaked to the public by journalist Ji Xuguang, who despite his noble grandstanding as an anti-corruption crusader, took it upon himself to leak the video to the world without Zhao's consent.
Those who follow sex scandals in China will remember the 2010 case of tobacco official Han Feng from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Han, who was later exposed for corruption, had his diary detailing explicit sexual soirees leaked by his mistress online.
Such tactics appear borrowed from the US political sex scandal playbook, where women including Monica Lewinsky and Ashley Dupré were vocal to the media about their relationships with President Bill Clinton and New York Governor Eliot Spitzer respectively.
Not helping Zhao are revelations from a Caijing story that suggest she was a willing actor in the candid sex tape. She had been hired by a construction company that wanted leverage over Lei after he had turned down huge bribes, the finance magazine reported November 24.
Ji and his source of the video, fellow reporter Zhu Ruifeng, argue they have done society a service in exposing an allegedly corrupt official. The duo claims to have a further five sex tapes indicting other Chongqing officials, which they plan to leak once identities are confirmed.
But investigative journalism at its core should be about exposing wrongdoing, rather than orchestrating it and then selling it to the public. Corruption certainly qualifies as being in the public interest, but sex tape stings that expose little more than adultery are difficult to justify given the intense scrutiny and shame that women in such cameos face.
Chinese politics can be incredibly dull at times, but the public's insatiable desire for voyeuristic news should not come at the cost of the future of a teenage mistress who, like all young people, might come to regret mistakes of her youth.
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