Sex always sells, so it’s not surprising that an excerpt from Clive Hamilton’s new book (also on the Chinese Communist Party’s infiltration of western societies) began with a tale of a notable western politician getting caught in a honeytrap in China: on a business trip to Beijing, Deputy Mayor of London Ian Clement admitted a Chinese beauty into his hotel room after having been approached by her at a party, only to lose consciousness and wake up to find the lady gone and his blackberry downloaded of its contents.
CCP’s strategy of sexually entrapping unwitting western men as a way to get information out of them has been well-documented. For instance, in his glossary on Chinese intelligence jargons, CCP espionage expert Peter Mattis devotes a whole entry to this ploy, known among Chinese spymasters as “Meiren Ji” (beautiful woman scheme). In “The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage,” Mara Hvistendahl quotes a U.S. State Department official who warned men against falling into CCP’s clutches: “Go look in the mirror. No beautiful woman, attractive woman, goes up to 50-year-old men.”
Before I went to work in mainland - the British-style schooling I had received in Hong Kong was to make every exposure to China’s freewheeling ways a shock to my system - I thought “Meiren Ji ’' was primarily directed at western men. The first time it occurred to me that I should disabuse myself of this assumption was when a mainland male who was in real estate recounted to me, in a matter-of-factly tone, that he went along with a government official’s request that they visit prostitutes together; his desire to win his bid on a piece of land outweighed his fear of being photographed in the act. Then there was this adage on male buddyship that was cited to me by mainlanders on so many occasions: “Together we attend school, together we carry revolvers, together we fornicate with whores, together we divide ill-gotten gains” (一起同過窗,一起扛過槍,一起嫖過娼,一起分過贓) - other than the part about revolvers, the rest are meant to be taken literally.
The widespread practice of bonding by participating in an act that could lead to one’s undoing - prostitution is illegal in China - is more than fodder for gossip. If we take into consideration China’s political reality - how can its totalitarian government bind its members to it, now that no one sincerely believes in its founding ideals? - then the systematic use of potential sexual blackmail can be read as one of the regime’s survival tactics. Those who want to work for the party and share in its bounty have to first submit a track record of sleazy conduct. This deems them “safe” in the eyes of CCP: at the first sign that they may turn on the party, the party can seize on the dirt it has on them and turn on them instead. This approach of keeping party adherents in line then filters down to the rest of society: among peers, mutual trust is strengthened if each has compromising information on the other.
Clement later said of the incident in his hotel room in Beijing: “I wasn’t thinking straight. I was thinking like a heterosexual bloke who is an 11-hour flight from home. I knew I shouldn’t be doing it.” CCP wishes to injure the sense of honor of its targets exactly this way. First, egg them on into giving full rein to their baser desires; then, diminish them by leaving them wallowing in shame.
It is not an accident that CCP has a liking for detaining rights activists who oppose to it on the purported grounds that they have been cavorting with hookers; recent victims include the outspoken law professor Xu Zhangrun (許章潤）and the former UK consulate staffer Simon Cheng (who is now setting up a parliament-in-exile from his new base in England). So profoundly are cadres ruled by shame that they unconsciously project their self-disgust onto the party’s enemies.
It pains me particularly that it was someone’s sense of shame that brought down Hong Kong - the firewall between mainland and Hong Kong received its first serious blow in 2015, when CCP sent the mainland police to cross the borders and arrest booksellers who published a book on Xi Jinping’s love life. To intimidate other booksellers and the rest of Hong Kong into silence, Beijing recently went further and forced upon the former colony a law that would, among other things, legitimize such mainland police forays. I don’t know about others, but I’m already bracing for a change in human dynamics: before long, Hong Kong people’s sense of security will no longer be derived from the robustness of our legal institutions, but from us having dirt on each other.
(Michelle Ng (吳若琦) is an independent bilingual writer based in Hong Kong.)
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