BEIJING - Among the many notable features of the latest grainy sex tape circulating on the Chinese Internet -- a video of former Chongqing official Lei Zhengfu atop his then-18-year-old mistress in 2007 -- perhaps the most intriguing is the angle from which it was shot. Someone placed a rudimentary video camera, or perhaps a camera phone, on a low dresser adjacent to a hotel bed and pointed it upwards. The pale slender woman is barely visible, but Lei's face, grunting in the throes of pleasure, is in full view.
As the amateur porn made waves online after it surfaced on Nov. 20, Chongqing's Commission for Discipline Inspection, the organ responsible for dealing with corruption and wrongdoing among party members, determined that the man in the video was indeed Lei. (He initially denied it, claiming Photoshop mischief.) Removed from his post as district party secretary on Nov. 23, Lei is now being investigated for party discipline infractions and graft in the second-raciest scandal to erupt in Chongqing this year, after the March fall of the municipality's former party boss Bo Xilai.
Conjugal entanglements of power, politics, money, and men, usually involving multiple sex partners, are hardly new in China, but how this video came to light was novel: Zhu Ruifeng, a 31-year-old former investigative journalist at the respected Guangzhou province newspaper Southern Metropolis Daily, who now runs an anti-corruption website called "People's Supervision" in Beijing, posted the footage online in mid November. He represents a new trend: watchdogs who both understand that the Communist Party has a severe mistress problem, and realize that the problem can be used as a weapon in the fight against corruption.
Zhu, who obtained the video from a whistleblower inside the Chongqing police department, told Foreign Policy that he thinks the tape exists because a construction company bribed Lei with women to secure lucrative government contracts. To ensure greater leverage, Zhu says, the women were told to secretly videotape their encounters -- hence the camera angle. (Chongqing's foreign affairs department said on Monday the commission's investigation is still ongoing, and that any relevant public updates will be made available via the government's Weibo account.)
Once the lewd video went viral, both Western and Chinese media outlets covered the story. It wasn't the first sex scandal to rock China, by any means, but the sharp contrast between the dour exterior of China's officialdom culture, and its raunchy bedroom obsessions is still shocking. Even with heavy censorship, in recent years China's English language state-run media have run enough salacious content to embarrass your mother: In August, the nationalistic tabloid Global Times ran a story about two male officials in Anhui province under scrutiny after photos of a five-person orgy in a hotel room circulated online. In 2010, China Daily ran diary excerpts from a Guangxi province official convicted of accepting bribes after his meticulous sex-cum-graft diaries were posted online. (Among the entries: "Womanizing is on the right track. It's been a lucky year with women. I need to pay attention to my health with so many sex partners.") To be sure, details are often suppressed: When China's former railway minister Liu Zhijun was deposed on corruption charges in February 2011, a leaked Central Propaganda Bureau memo instructed: "All media are not to report or hype the news that Liu Zhijun had 18 mistresses."