The price of honesty

By Huang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2014-9-29 5:03:01

Procurator He Wenkai defies public stereotype of corruption to prove he's clean

He Wenkai poses for a photo in his office. Photo: Courtesy of He Wenkai

He is probably the first Chinese official who has openly risen to the challenge of dispelling the notion that "all officials receive bribes."

He Wenkai, 46, deputy procurator-general of the People's Procuratorate of Fangchenggang, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, has found himself under fire after responding to an offer seeking honest and upright officials above the department level.

"Phoenix Television critic and host Leung Man-tao says if he meets any official who dares say he is clean, has never received a penny in bribes and has never had a mistress, he will pay him 200,000 yuan ($32,573) at once," said a microblog post in mid-July.

He Wenkai commented on the post through his verified Tencent Weibo, saying he was interested in the reward. "Please organize a human search on me [to prove my honesty], and then help me receive the reward."

A microblogger took a screenshot of He's response, which attracted over one million views and nearly 2,000 comments in a matter of a few hours.

He didn't receive any reward, however. "I responded not for the reward but out of an impulse to hit back at the public's overstating of official corruption," He recalled to the Global Times. Many people, including some noted scholars, believe that most officials in China are dishonest.

The reward offer turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by some unknown netizen, which was discovered online as early as November 2012.

Fame and notoriety

Nevertheless, He unexpectedly won overnight fame. His microblog followers grew by more than 1,000. He was inundated with interview requests, as well as a slew of troubles.

Apart from praise for his courage, he also drew many nasty comments and even abuse. Without blaming rumormongers, many questioned whether he was indeed being honest about his wealth. Some netizens even launched a crusade to debunk his claims.

His previous posts on aspects of his personal life such as his car and 3-year-old daughter were all picked up and questioned. Some even made intimidating calls to his office, telling him to expect exposure of his "misbehavior."

Many of his relatives and friends exhorted him to withdraw from the quarrel. However, he took the fight to his accusers by being open about his assets online: monthly salary, 6,400 yuan, his wife's salary at a top-rated hospital, 9,000 yuan; two properties in Fangchenggang, two cars worth 380,000 yuan in total, and savings of 150,000 yuan.

He, who has a son at college and a daughter at kindergarten, also explained that he wasn't breaking the family planning policy as he was in a second marriage, which means he is allowed to have a second child.

However, some people continued to pour abuse on him. He chose to blacklist those "extremely unreasonable and vulgar" netizens.

In addition to that, he has also sensed other changes. Some colleagues and friends have begun to distance themselves from him. "I can feel the subtle changes in their eyes and the environment," he said.

There have been various interpretations of his self-declaration of honesty. Some people believed he was merely seeking the limelight, some regarded him as offbeat, while others worried that his "high profile" would drag them into the media spotlight.

Many people texted him asking him to keep a low profile and go on a hiatus from social media.

Qin Baoxian, one of He's friends from the city's political and legal affairs committee, said he thinks He's outspokenness on affairs related to his duties should be encouraged but that his sudden fame isn't necessarily a good thing.

He's personal activities were also impacted. "When having dinner at a restaurant, getting my car repaired or taking a walk with my wife, some people took out their mobile phones and took photos of us, and I would always think: will this invite trouble?" he said in a post on his Weibo.

Nevertheless, none of this deterred him from updating his Weibo. "The response has indeed brought me lots of problems. I take it as a lesson, but I don't regret it." Among the more than 21,000 entries he posted since June 2010, one quarter of them are responses to legal queries. The others, apart from a few posts about his personal life, are all records, comments and reflections on job-related issues.

"He is a reliable family man, and is very good at telling stories to the children," his wife told China Newsweek.

Resisting temptation

He had worked as a lecturer at the department of Chinese language and literature for seven years at the Guangxi University for Nationalities in Nanning after graduating from Central China Normal University in 1989. In 1996, having passed the country's first public selection test for procurator, he was recruited by the Fangchenggang procuratorate.

As a procurator, there are lots of opportunities to take bribes, He said. He revealed that lawyers and defendants had given him envelopes of cash, adding that this practice was "quite common," and that he either rejected or returned the cash. "Every bribe was a request to ask you to do something with your power. I'm clear about the price behind the temptation," he said.

But he confessed that he had received gifts such as tea, cigarettes and local special foods before the central Party leadership launched the crackdown on corruption and extravagance at the end of 2012.

He has also challenged improper interventions in justice.

He still remembered a case from years ago when he was a procuratorate clerk administering the arrest approval of a suspect involved in the disposal of stolen goods. He was stopped at the gate of the suspect's work unit. The unit's director, whose rank was much higher, came out hours later and said haughtily, "What right do you have to talk with me? Call the mayor and Party chief to come!" He responded by saying, "They are not law enforcers, but I am. What right do you have to resist the law?"

He also received threats. During certain festivals, he would receive envelopes of mingbi - fake money that is burned as an offering to the dead.

But as the nationwide frugality campaign advances, He feels progress is being made. His office has been cut to a 18-square-meter room from 100 square meters. His State-financed vehicle was taken away. The number of cases they handled involving corruption have greatly increased. The number of cases in August is nearly equal to the whole of last year.

On September 18, he announced on his Weibo that he would no longer accept interviews and hoped for an end to the need to defend his honesty. "Being honest or not is not evaluated by oneself, but by others," he noted.

Posted in: Profile, In-Depth

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