Guo Meimei and the Red Cross

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Much of China’s recent attention has been focused not on the Chinese Communist Party’s 90th anniversary, but on a 20-year-old woman. Her web name is Guo Meimei, and she’s as sweet looking as her name in Mandarin suggests.

But why all the attention? One thing that attracted readers to her blog was the way she flaunted her wealth. On June 23, ‘Guo Meimei Baby’ posted photos suggesting she lives in a large villa, owns a Maserati sports car, and has about a dozen designer handbags. She claimed that she was the general manager of the Red Cross Society of China, but argued that she needs to ride horses every weekend, for example, to cultivate the habits of the rich.

Netizens checked out Guo’s past entries and discovered that up until 2009, she had led a very ordinary life. However, from 2009, she apparently accumulated wealth that’s unimaginable to hundreds of millions of her fellow Chinese. Netizens were curious – how had this 20 year-old become rich, seemingly overnight? Was she the daughter (or the lover) of a government official? And what about that title of hers at the Red Cross?

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It was her job title that prompted netizens to investigate her background a little more. They found that a company was set up at almost the same time as a Chinese Red Cross-affiliated company was formed. The business operations match the job that Guo described on her microblog, while the chief executive officer of the company was, it was argued, also the deputy secretary of one of the Chinese Red Cross affiliated businesses.

Such revelations have prompted a great deal of frustration with the Red Cross Society of China, with one academic noting that as long as the Red Cross doesn’t disclose information relating to donations, people will be unlikely to want to donate to the organization.

The Chinese Red Cross issued several statements and organized a number of briefing sessions over the issue. However, the public still wasn’t satisfied, with many arguing that the Red Cross wasn’t fully disclosing information relating to its business subsidiaries.

Guo responded saying that she planned to migrate to Australia, prompting netizens to hand over a petition to the Australian embassy in Beijing requesting that Guo’s visa application be rejected as she might be involved in corruption.

The police are now involved, and the nation’s media are watching the issue closely.

But personally, I’m more concerned about the Chinese Red Cross than about Guo. My reporting beat doesn’t normally take in charities, so I’m not familiar with all the ins and outs of the organization. However, it seems that China’s Red Cross doesn’t fall under the global Red Cross umbrella.

Prior to the earthquakes in Wenchuan and Yushu, the Chinese Red Cross was involved in several scandals. Some members of the Shanghai Red Cross, meanwhile, reportedly spent more than RMB10,000 (about $1,500) on dinner, while the Chongqing Red Cross is said to have used funds to wine and dine government officials. The Guo Meimei issue, therefore, will likely only further damage the reputation of the organisation among Chinese.

Some netizens have said that Guo is actually in some ways a kind of anti-corruption heroine for revealing what the organisation’s money gets spent on. But many more are looking at how they can get their money back from a group that has been badly tarnished.

In the meantime, the Red Cross Society of China has reportedly opened a verified account at Sina Weibo. We’ll see if this helps.

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