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Chinese rage over brazen 'Fang family'

Publication Date : 12-02-2013

 

China has been gripped by the brazenly corrupt exploits of the "House of Fang", though its members do not share surnames, blood ties or family connections.

But this brood of at least eight - and counting - government officials or Communist Party members are linked by three traits that have sparked fury among many Chinese since October last year.

They are in possession of excessive numbers of properties (fang in Chinese, inspiring the nickname); multiple hukou (household registration permits), and other hidden assets.

Netizens have dubbed them the "Fang family", ranking them by seniority based not on age, but on how many properties they have amassed.

They include "Fang Ye" (Grandpa Fang), "Fang Shu" (uncle), "Fang Jie" (older sister), "Fang Mei" (younger sister) and "Fang Xi" (daughter-in-law).

The patriarch, or "Fang Zu Zong", is Cheng Shaochun, a Public Security Bureau deputy chief in northern Jinan city. He owns the biggest number of properties - an eye-popping 16 blocks of apartments, alleged an online whistleblower on January 22.

Such nicknames may sound light-hearted, but a much more sinister reality lurks beneath.

These cadres' brazen bribes and abuse of government connections to beat the system - and profit handsomely - have riled a society increasingly torn apart by widening income gaps and injustice.

They are a stark contrast to China's millions of fang nu (house slaves) - mostly lower-income and middle-income Chinese who bear huge mortgages on sole homes bought amid property bubbles created by rich, well-connected speculators who reportedly often get preferential prices.

What has angered the masses even more is how endemic such corruption is. The Fang family all hold relatively low-level, small-town posts.

Take "Fang Jie" Gong Aiai, 47. The rural bank executive from the tiny north-western county of Shenmu allegedly owns 45 homes - including more than 10 high-end units in Beijing - worth an estimated 1 billion yuan (US$159 million), and four hukou.

Her unrelated "Fang Mei", in her 20s, allegedly has 29 properties, including 11 units said to be subsidised housing for the lower-income group, thanks to her father, a district housing bureau official in central Henan province, who claimed his assets came from his wife's property business.

Every one of the exposed Fang clan has either denied the allegations or claimed to have valid explanations. But Chinese like Yan Zi, 36, believe they are just the unlucky ones who got caught. "They are only the tip of the iceberg. There are even more out there whose hidden assets are far more extensive," said the administrator at a Beijing company, who does not own a house or car.

Cai Xiaoqing, 41, agrees. "It's unfair. An official post and power are all you need to get rich," said the cleaner, whose family of three rent a small 30 sq m room with no tap water or heating in Beijing.

Because of their northern Hebei province hukou, they cannot receive social welfare benefits in Beijing, and her son, 12, cannot have subsidised education.

And even if Cai could afford it, she would not be able to buy a home in Beijing because of property restrictions that clamp down on speculation. Since 2011, China has barred the purchase of third homes. People also cannot purchase property in a city without a local hukou.

But the Fang family has shown that such rules can be broken. After all, there is "a black market involving corrupt police and dealing in fake hukou", reported Xinhua news agency on January 24.

A fake identity in north-eastern Jilin can be obtained for between 30,000 yuan and 50,000 yuan from a local police station, it said.

A Beijing hukou can command several million yuan, as properties there are highly sought after for their huge price appreciation potential, say observers.

Besides being a way to speculate in property, multiple hukou also offer an escape route overseas for corrupt officials.

Some believe that the state media's extensive coverage of the Fang scandals may reflect China's new leaders' concern over the social tensions caused by corruption.

"The new leaders have made anti- corruption a top priority," said Beijing-based analyst Hu Xingdou, adding that he rates their resolve to do so highly. "But to solve this, there must - at the very least - be open declaration of all of officials' houses and assets, and government finances must be made public. This requires tremendous effort."

 

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