“Happily submitting to being preyed upon”
When Leonardo da Vinci arrived in Milan as an unknown young painter, he brought along with him one of his designs – a lute shaped like a horse’s head. He knew in order to find patrons, he must first gain entry into aristocratic circles; to attract notice, he sought to bring down the house by playing his unusual instrument. His ploy worked. Before long, the Milanese, smitten by his bold imagination and delicacy of sensibilities, began sending commissions his way.
It was Leonardo’s example that I turned to when I ventured to work in mainland as a lone young woman and was soon faced with a dilemma: in a society motored by guanxi – an otherwise intractable problem can be solved in an instant after dialing the number of the right person – how can I get to be in the good graces of people whose help I might need in the future, while at the same time signaling to them that I have my boundaries, lest they assume I was so naive that they could easily entrap me in compromising circumstances?
My musical abilities were nowhere near Leonardo’s level, but I was a proficient player of the guzheng (Chinese harp), having honed my skills years ago at the children’s division of the Academy of Performing Arts. So, taking cue from Leonardo, I offered to play at banquets. Most of my mainland peers didn’t take up instruments as children, so the sight of a young female playing at near-professional level was a rarity. The added bonus was, my contribution to the festive atmosphere meant I’d more or less earned the right to decline alcohol. This allowed me to be alert at all times, so no one could take advantage of me.
Later, when I became a reporter and had to develop sources in a government agency, my buffer came in human form. After I met an attractive woman my age who worked there, I hatched a plan. I could tell she was interested in beauty tips, and I happened to be a self-taught eyelash expert: I could glue four clusters of false eyelashes to each eye in three minutes, a feat that stunned beauticians in particular, for they knew all too well the level of dexterity the task entailed. So, I won that girl over by decoding the mystery of eyelash application for her. From then on, I could rely on her to find me sources at the agency. I knew her male colleagues would find it difficult to say no to her, and with her as my proxy, I didn’t need to do the begging myself.
Last week, I was once again reminded of how treacherous a place mainland can be for young women: a 26 year-old auxiliary female police officer was given a 13-year sentence and a RMB5 million fine for extorting nine officials. The court portrayed her as a scheming seductress – she’d ask for money after sleeping with them – but anyone familiar with how mainland works would think this version of events is more likely: the nine men knew each other and passed her around as their plaything; intimidated by authority, she started out half-willing. Over time, however, she felt aggrieved and demanded monetary compensation. The men retaliated by using the law to crush her.
It would be a mistake to assume only young girls are vulnerable to ruin. Off the top of my head, I can think of three middle-aged female officials who were accused of a cryptic offence the media had a field day reporting on: all “happily submitted to being preyed upon” (甘於被圍獵). One of them – Wang Li – was the 58-year old head of a provincial bank at the time of her arrest. The media said of her “in offering her body so willingly, Wang forces us to realize when women let loose, they are worse than men.” Her seniority in age and rank didn’t spare her the auxiliary police officer’s fate of being chewed and spat out by the system.
Mainland commentator Su Xiaohe has a theory on why it’s so common for mainland officials to sleep with their female subordinates. In order to be a CCP underling, one must erase one’s humanity, a requirement that exacts a psychological toll. So, CCP-connected people seek release by bullying those with no power, be they street sellers, petitioners, or that fresh-faced female recruit at the office. And now that no one believes in communist ideals anymore, among men, sharing a mistress can create a sense of comradeship that would otherwise be lacking.
Former CCP crony Guo Wengui has characterized the CCP’s style of command as “governance by sexual organ” (生殖器治國）- gaining dominance over others through sexual blackmail. I wouldn’t go as far as Guo, but it’ll forever pain me that Hong Kong’s downfall was precipitated by Xi Jinping’s fury over a Hong Kong-published book on his alleged affairs; shortly afterwards, thugs crossed the border to kidnap the booksellers. The rest is history. So, despite my best efforts, looks like I haven’t been able to keep my life free from the impact of sexual stuff after all.