Today Chinese state media reported that Yang Dacai, formerly the head of the Shaanxi provincial work safety administration, had been sentenced to 14 years in prison after being found guilty of taking bribes and holding a large amount of property which he cannot account for.
According to Xinhua, Yang could not explain to the court where 5 million yuan ($817,005) of his 11.77 million yuan ($1.9 million) family fortune came from.
Yang’s fall from grace began last year, after he was photographed apparently smiling at the scene of a tragic accident that had left 36 dead:
Yang became an online sensation, and anger soon spread about the “smiling” official. While Yang protested that he had been “unprepared” for the photo.
Soon China’s notorious “human flesh search” — online bloggers devoted to finding secrets online — were scrutinizing Yang’s life. One thing they noticed was that he had a large amount of expensive watches, some worth up to $US32,000. How did a relatively poorly paid local official afford such watches? Yang became known as “Brother Watch.”
The pictures of Yang’s watches began to circulate online (you can see more of them here) and the Chinese authorities began to take notice. Yang was fired less than a month later.
Yang’s case revealed not only the apparent callousness and corruption of many of the Chinese elite, but also how the incredible public resentment of these traits can find action in online vigilantism with real, official results. That the campaign against Yang may also show that the Chinese government is serious in its battle against corruption, and also perhaps why the government seems so concerned about the power of “online rumours.”
However, to most these weren’t the biggest takeaways from the trial. As Josh Chin of the Wall Street Journal notes, most talk on Weibo was about how official images seemed to show that the official brought down by a smile, was smiling as he was sentenced to prison time:
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