After 200 days, the lengthy and controversial “Arctic Catfish” scandal has finally come to a dissatisfying and underwhelming end. It all began when “Arctic Catfish,” a Chinese student residing in Australia, caused uproar on social media by flaunting her family’s wealth and lavish lifestyle, making derogatory comments about the Chinese population, and insulting those with less money than herself. Online investigators discovered that she was the granddaughter of Zhong Gengci, a retired former official of the Shenzhen transport bureau, leading to questions about how a civil servant’s family could amass such a massive fortune.
In March, authorities in Shenzhen launched a corruption investigation into Zhong Gengci, after receiving complaints from journalists and citizens. On October 10, the Shenzhen Municipal Commission for Discipline Inspection and Supervision announced the results of the investigation. It was found that Zhong Gengci, former director of the freight management branch of the Shenzhen Municipal Transportation Bureau, had acted disloyal and dishonest to the Communist Party of China. He had colluded to obstruct organizational reviews, engaged in illegal activities for personal wealth, took on unauthorized jobs for personal gain, and accepted gifts in exchange for abusing his position. As a result, Zhong has been expelled from the Chinese Communist Party, had his pension reduced to that of a “second-level clerk,” and any illicit gains obtained through his misconduct have been confiscated. The exact amount was not specified.
On Chinese social media, there was a widespread expression of anger and disappointment towards the perceived lenient punishment for such serious crimes. Some raised concerns about why Zhong was not charged with criminal offenses, as some of his actions could be categorized as such. Others questioned why a man who had gained significant profits from corrupt activities was allowed to keep his pension. In response to the news, Weibo user @酒巷痴子 (Jiǔxiàng Chīzi) made a joke under the hashtag #Arctic Catfish’s Grandpa ‘Netted’ 16 Years After Retirement#, saying: “Today, my old homeroom teacher unexpectedly called me. She said that because I had embezzled money from the class activity fund over a decade ago, she was going to remove me as class president.”
A post by WeChat influencer Mu Qi Says criticized the lenient punishment given to Zhong, stating that he should have faced charges of corruption or bribery instead of receiving a light reprimand and a small reduction in pension.
The main focus is that: “Retirement benefits will be proportional to the position of a second-level clerk.”
To clarify, Mr. Zhong will continue to receive his [government] retirement benefits, which are financed by the contributions of taxpayers.
Therefore, I believe that Mr. Zhong’s penalty was exceptionally mild and could be viewed as a type of preferential treatment outside of the legal system. [Chinese]
Xiang Dongliang, a commentator on current events who uses the pseudonym “Basic Common Sense,” recently wrote a humorous piece on the subject. In a satirical essay discussing the wealth and assets of Zhong’s family, the writer posed the question, “If Grandpa Loses His Pension, How Will ‘Arctic Catfish’ and Her Family Make Ends Meet?”
Every year, Arctic Catfish has to pay property taxes on her overseas mansion. Changing the water in the swimming pool alone costs thousands! And all that [international] travel is also a big expense for the family, isn’t it? How is Catfish’s poor old grandpapa supposed to afford all that on his measly pension? Having lived in honest poverty for decades, how do you expect them to survive if they’re suddenly forced to return to the pre-1949, pre-Liberation days? [Chinese]
A recent post on the finance and economy blog “Lao Siji Finance” discussed the amount of money confiscated from Zhong’s reported “nine-figure fortune” by investigators and questioned why he was still able to receive his pension. The author provided a chart comparing monthly “basic pension” amounts in different cities and provinces in China, and highlighted the difference between pensions for urban employees and civil servants. According to the article’s estimation, even Zhong’s reduced pension would still be significantly higher than the average person’s pension, possibly in the thousands of yuan.
Despite being disloyal, dishonest, obstructing organizational oversight, accumulating illegal wealth, and engaging in corruption, former Director Zhong will still receive a significant pension despite being demoted to the lowest level of the bureaucratic hierarchy.
Despite his repeated violations of rules and laws, former Director Zhong maintains a privileged status that most people cannot attain, even during his lowest moments.
The scandal involving the Arctic Catfish and Zhong Gengci has reignited discussions about corruption and misconduct among government officials. There are concerns that despite Xi Jinping’s efforts to crack down on corruption within the Party, the issue still persists and some corrupt individuals may have been spared or given lenient punishments. In September, the Shenzhen Municipal Transportation Bureau announced that the investigation into the incident was an internal matter and would not be made public. This sparked a poll on China News Service’s “Top News Express” Weibo account (@国士通车, Guóshì Tōngchē), asking if the results of the Arctic Catfish Incident should be made public. The majority of respondents, 90%, voted in favor of making the results public.