China Official ‘Just Trying to Learn About Wine’
(China) – A senior Chinese official who was excoriated for allegedly using public money to bankroll an extravagant wine-tasting session has reportedly claimed he was just trying to “learn” about wine.
Zhou Shaoqiang, the manager of a state-owned investment company in the southeastern city of Zhuhai, was subjected to an online mauling last month after accusations he had hosted an exclusive dinner party at which thousands of pounds worth of wine were consumed.
The alleged shindig would have gone unnoticed but for the actions of Chi Tengfei, a boastful guest who used his mobile phone to forward a photograph to friends.
“Drank 12 bottles tonight,” read an accompanying message. “What to do tomorrow and the day after?”
The photograph, which subsequently leaked onto the internet, showed guests huddled around 12 bottles of wine at a private club and suggested that the late-night drinking session had extended to bottles of Château Latour and Haut-Brion. In 2011, a six-litre bottle of 1961 Château Latour was reportedly auctioned to a Chinese buyer for £135,000.
Once public, the photograph raced around the Chinese internet. Zhou came under fire from corruption-weary micro-bloggers and an investigation was launched.
But this week investigators said they had found evidence of a rather more mundane dinner consisting of 12, mostly pork-themed dishes.
Just six bottles of wine were consumed, at a total cost of 2,580 yuan (around £258), according to a report in Guangzhou’s Yangcheng Evening News.
The offending bottles of Château Latour and Haut-Brion were already empty when placed on the table, it was claimed.
Zhou, who said he had paid out of his own pocket in cash, told investigators the empty bottles were produced to help his guests “learn more about wine,” according to the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper.
China’s micro-blogging community was unimpressed, describing the investigation as a whitewash and nicknaming Zhou “the wine learning brother.”
“Please stop covering up for the wine brother,” wrote one user of the Twitter-like Weibo.
Another wrote: “Owning large amounts of property is about gaining understanding of architecture. Having huge amounts of savings is about deepening economic knowledge. And keeping mistresses is about better understanding sex.”
“Our government officials really are living and learning,” they added.
Meanwhile, Chi, whose indiscreet photograph triggered the crisis, has begged the media to leave him in peace.
“There is nothing to it,” he told the Yangcheng Evening News this week. “The media has got it totally wrong. This has troubled me tremendously, causing me huge mental stress.”
The controversy comes days after China’s incoming president Xi Jinping urged Communist Party officials to be “diligent and thrifty.”
Officials should “resolutely oppose extravagance,” Xi said, according to state media.