China’s Jekyll and Hyde syndrome
Share this on

China’s Jekyll and Hyde syndrome

Officials adopt second identities to hide corruption and illegal activities

In China’s Southern industrial hub Guangdong yet another case of an official hiding his wealth through a second identity has been uncovered. Police official Zhao Haibin in Lufeng, a three hour drive east of Hong Kong, is being investigated for owning 192 properties under a pseudonym.

Zhao’s case is not a rare one and points to a profound crack in China’s state apparatus: the ease of obtaining a second identity. The reports became so frequent that Fujian police said it ran facial recognition software on 30 million IDs to identify fraudsters.

Last year, after Communist Party official Bo Xilai fell from power, the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao reported that his brother, Bo Xiyong, had been living in the city under a different identity. Using the (in China rather generic) name Li Xueming, he served on the board of China Everbright International, a multi-billion company listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Earlier in January, Gong Ailai, the head of a rural bank in central China’s Shanxi province, was exposed by netizens to own almost a billion yuan in assets using four identities. She claimed superstition led her to use different names.

Chen Wenzhu, a Guangdong tobacco official also from Lufeng, was able to travel to Hong Kong and nearby gambling-hub Macao at least 65 times using two passports with different names before he was expelled from the Communist Party and put under investigation in 2011.

The most recent case of former police official Zhao Haibing came to light some two years ago, when local investor Huang Kun alleged to have been defrauded by a certain Zhao Yong in a real estate auction. Huang dug in and discovered that the police official Zhao Haibing used his other identity Zhao Yong for real-estate business.

Zhao assumed his second name when he left his government job in 1991. He chose his alter ego to be two years younger and coming from more cosmopolitan Zhuhai. When he returned to work with the police in 1997, he kept both identities, he told the Southern Metropolis Daily. He even used the same photo for both ID cards, the daily reported, adding that Zhao’s two identities “were universally known” in town.

As more and more of these cases come to light, the authoritarian state – where Tibetans and Uighurs are struggling to get passports, but officials have two – is ironically confronted by a governance challenge. As the Beijing Times concluded in one case, “it showed not only how naive we are, but how powerful the privileged are.”