“China’s censors clamp down on watchblogger”

Funny? Sad? Both? From FT:

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.

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.”

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.

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Filed under censorship, corruption, internet

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