High-end cameras are new bribe of choice in China

September 24, 2014 14:15
Qin Yuhai and one of his award-winning photos. The Henan official is under investigation for taking expensive camera equipment from businessmen in return for some favors. Photo: Xinhua

Photography has been a fashionable pastime for many Chinese officials in recent years. As the hobby can be expensive, it has prompted some corrupt government servants to seek "sponsored" camera equipment, according to mainland media.

Reports suggest that taking bribes in the form of high-end cameras is not too uncommon nowadays among officials, posing a new headache to anti-corruption authorities.

Qin Yuhai, secretary of the Leading Party Members' Group in Henan’s People's Congress and an honorary chairman of the Henan photographers association, was recently put under investigation for "serious discipline violation", the usual euphemism in China for corruption.

Qin is said to have taken photographic equipment worth several million yuan from private businessmen, in exchange for some favors. 

After authorities initiated an investigation, the official began returning the equipment, Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday.

Qin once said in an interview with a Chinese photography magazine in 2011 that his cameras were sponsored by "someone else". The "someone else" was actually a famous businessman in the province, the report said.

Speaking about the practice, a photographer noted that expensive cameras offer a way for officials to show off, while the hobby also gives them an elegant activity.

Partly because of the officials, photography clubs have mushroomed in the past years. Government and Communist Party officials are among the most active members in such groups which organize photography tours, hold exhibitions and publish photo albums.

One official is said to have even used a police helicopter so that he can take pictures of swans in a wetland near the Yellow River. "But the swans were scared by the huge noise made by the helicopters and flew away," an amateur photographer was quoted as saying.

As for Qin, it remains to be seen if he will be to able to hold on to the recognition he obtained from his work — he was a director in the government-backed China Photographers Association (CPA) and received a top national award in the field in 2005.

But the example of Hu Changqing, who had once been a governor of Jiangxi province, may provide some reference. 

Hu was known as a calligrapher and was a member of Chinese Calligraphers Association. He took millions of yuan from people who rushed for his calligraphy works during his days in power in the late 1990s. However, after he was dismissed and put in jail for corruption, his fans disappeared overnight and his calligraphy works were taken down from prominent places.

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EJ Insight reporter