China’s leading online portal has shut down the microblog of a watch enthusiast who rose to prominence pointing out the excesses of Communist party officials by identifying and valuing their expensive watches.
A long-time timepiece aficionado, Daniel Wu began his accidental crusade when he noticed in a news photograph of the deadly high-speed rail crash in July that Sheng Guangzu, the railway minister, appeared to be wearing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual, which retails for Rmb70,000 ($11,000) in China.
“I did a simple search for minister Sheng and was astonished to find him wearing many more watches,” Mr Wu told the Financial Times.
Mr Wu, 33, said this inspired him to cast his net more widely. He searched for other officials and compared photographs of the wristwatches to pictures from official product catalogues. The number of people who followed his microblog on online portal Sina quickly jumped from 2,000 to more than 20,000 before it was shut down last weekend.
“That was when I got a bit addicted,” said Mr Wu, who added that his “watch evaluation” is now taking up most of his spare time when he is not running his software company.
Mr Wu stresses that he does not equate the possession of a luxury watch with corruption. But the fact that Chinese officials do not have to declare publicly their financial assets, and that some of the watches on display were believed to cost the equivalent of many months of the officials’ salary, has driven many of his followers to see him as a graftbuster.
The blogger says he tried to exclude the possibility of mistaking fake watches for expensive originals by using as high-resolution pictures as possible. Even so, he has used phrases such as “appears to wear” in most cases.
Mr Wu’s original post about the railway minister was soon removed by Sina’s in-house censors who monitor the chatter of their more than 200m registered Weibo users on behalf of the ruling Communist party.
Mr Sheng has never commented on Mr Wu’s revelations. The blogger says he has only ever heard back from three of the more than 100 officials he wrote about.
Mr Wu says he and the censors were soon testing each other’s limits.
“I had …the impression that we had achieved a tacit understanding: I would not touch the most expensive watches and the highest-ranking officials and I would get away with that.”
But last week, Sina told him that party pressure had grown too strong. Charles Chao, chief executive, told an industry forum on Sunday that the company was stepping up censorship.
Corruption is one of the most widespread topics of criticism in China’s blogosphere.
Earlier this year, censors closed down a flurry of websites on which citizens could report their encounters with corrupt officials, typically by reporting anonymously how they had bribed someone.
Mr Wu plans to keep his hobby up on other websites. But he recognises with a melancholic note that he has probably gone too far.
His internet pseudonym is “Secretary General of the Flower Fruit Mountain” a reference to to Sun Wukong, a monkey character from Chinese classical literature.
The playful monkey king’s supernatural powers seduce him to rebel against heaven and he is punished with confinement in Wuzhishan, a mountain made from Buddha’s hand.
“I now truly feel like Sun Wukong,” says Mr Wu. “No matter how high you jump, you can’t escape the Buddha’s hand.”
Additional reporting by Chen Yuanni
Get alerts on Chinese business & finance when a new story is published