China’s state newspaper slams Valentine’s Day for causing ‘debauchery of decadent cadres’

February 14, 2013

A couple poses for Valentine's Day in Beijing. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, has taken an important step in maintaining its tradition of absurdity and unintentional self-parody. The paper, which claims a readership of 2.4 million, published a short article blaming Valentine's Day for the recent spate of corruption and sex scandals among Communist Party officials. Really.

The story is in Chinese, of course, but the English-language South China Morning Post has you covered:

A four-paragraph story in People's Daily said Valentine's Day had become a hatchery of decadent ideology, indulgent lifestyle, fraud and corruption for some party members who squandered money indulging their lovers.

It went on to say that such a trend had been seen among some senior party members, including disgraced former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, former railways minister Liu Zhijun and former Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu, who all kept mistresses or had illicit affairs with many women. ...

It said that while the problem afflicted only a minority of party members, there would be severe consequences if such behaviour was not curbed.

New Chinese leader Xi Jinping, like his predecessor Hu Jintao did before him, is making official corruption a high priority. But the past year has seen some high-profile and embarrassing revelations of corruption, most notably in the dramatic downfall of Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai.

The People's Daily says that the blame ultimately lies with, you guessed it, the dreaded West and its nefarious cultural influence. Here's the South China Morning Post again:

The writer then asked why such a romantic holiday in the West, where lovers presented flowers, offered chocolates and sent greeting cards, had transformed into a breeding ground for corruption when it reached the mainland. The problem was cadres who had abandoned communist beliefs, the article said, breaking their party oath and betraying the cause.

Valentine's Day is really popular in China, where it's treated as both a romantic and commercial holiday, with lots of shopping. Still, there is a certain, old-fashioned view among some Chinese nationalists that Western holidays are part of a larger threat – possibly orchestrated by Washington, possibly not – to erode China's culture and thus its polity.

Journalist Helen Gao discussed this minority, anti-holiday view in her story for The Atlantic on Christmas's overwhelming popularity in China:

Shortly before Christmas in 2006, ten post-doctoral students from Peking University, Tsinghua University, and other elite colleges penned an open letter asking Chinese people to boycott Christmas and resist the invasion of "western soft power." They warned, "[Christmas celebrators in China] are doing what western missionaries dreamed to do but didn't succeed in doing 100 years ago." The letter added, "Chinese people need to treat Christmas cautiously, and support the dominance of our own culture."

Given that Chinese culture has been around for thousands of years, though, it is probably safe from Valentine's Day.

Update: A journalist friend who covers China thinks that the People's Daily story, reported on by the South China Morning Post, might not actually appear in the print edition of the paper, but rather could be this unsigned web article. The friend notes that this would give the article significantly less political weight.

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Max Fisher | February 14, 2013