Old Version

Ugly on the Inside

After a number of officials were found guilty of accepting large bribes for costly cosmetic services, experts are calling out the toxic culture within China’s officialdom that excessively values appearance and beauty

By Tong Xizhong Updated Feb.1

Despite being in her 50s, public servant Liu Guangming had gained a reputation for having “the best butt in Anshan.”  

Turns out it cost a fortune in public funds, and the government was not willing to turn the other cheek.  

Liu, former director of the Anshan city’s tax bureau in Liaoning Province, vanished from the public eye in 2006 when she was detained on corruption charges. She was reportedly sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison. Media reports revealed that Liu had embezzled millions of yuan to finance a series of plastic surgeries.  

She then reportedly used her nipped-and-tucked looks to “entice” higher-level officials, enabling her to carry out embezzlement and other illegal practices, according to court records. 
Though an older case, Liu’s name resurfaced in media reports following the release of a document by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) on November 16, 2023. The document aims to rectify the toxic culture prevalent among officials and warned against their pursuit of extravagant lifestyles, including excessive spending on cosmetic procedures. 
Just a month prior to the document’s release, Chen Guifen, former vice-chairman of the district-level Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Yanqing District, Beijing, was investigated for accepting bribes. It was reported that a significant portion of the money she received was spent on plastic surgery.  

Experts warn that such procedures have become a leading form of corruption that is affecting both female and male officials.  

Under the Surface 
Media reported in 2022 that Liu Guangming had undergone extensive cosmetic surgery, from a nose job and facelifts to buttock implants. The constant stream of compliments she received about her beauty helped her overcome any fears she had about getting on the operating table, she said.  

Liu spent at least 5 million yuan (US$700,000) on skincare treatments in Hong Kong. Her buttock lift surgery alone cost 500,000 yuan (US$69,917), media reported.  

Liu’s is not an isolated story. Xu Ailian, the former mayor of Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region who was investigated in June 2020 and later sentenced to 11 years in prison, was found to have accepted bribes and covered up the activities of local criminal organizations. The Procuratorate Daily  

newspaper revealed she had received expensive cosmetic services paid for by a company, including beauty injections that cost 150,000 yuan (US$20,975) each.  

The same year, Shen Zhili, former vice-president and standing member of the Party commission of the North China University of Technology in Beijing also came under investigation. Media revealed she regularly underwent plastic surgery and beauty treatments. Records show that she spent at least 4.5 million yuan (US$600,000) on cosmetic services, with the largest transaction amounting to 690,000 yuan (US$96,485).  

Shen was sentenced to 10 years in prison for taking bribes.  

The CCDI’s website details several cases of officials involved in corruption related to cosmetic services, with amounts reaching in the millions of yuan. In some cases, indulgence in cosmetic procedures led to the downfall of these officials.  

For example, Cao Shujie, a former official at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, came under investigation after reports claimed that a woman surnamed Du spent a significant amount of public funds at a beauty salon between 2007 and 2010. Investigators confirmed that Du was Cao’s daughter.  

In 2014, Cao was sentenced to 10 years in prison for corruption.  

Similarly, Bai Hong, a former member of the Party commission of the Beijing health bureau, faced multiple accusations in 2011 of indulging in luxurious beauty treatments at a beauty salon. An investigation revealed that Bai embezzled 4 million yuan (US$560,000) in public funds and spent it on 100 treatments at the high-end beauty salon.  

Bai was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison.  

Male officials are not immune to such corruption. Kong Xianghui, former vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference of Haixi, Qinghai Province, was exposed for spending over 3 million yuan (US$400,000) on cosmetic services with his wife in Chengdu, Sichuan Province and Shanghai. Mo Bin, former director of the Party commission of a district-level People’s Congress in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, was revealed to have accepted high-end cosmetic services paid for by local businesspeople.  

Kong was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2023 for bribery, while Mo Bin has been removed from his office and expelled from the Party. His case is still under investigation.  

Psychologist Zhou Xu has analyzed the possible causes of cosmetic service-related corruption. “On one hand, the power held by officials can amplify their personal desires and drive them to satisfy their basic instincts. On the other hand, people in positions of power with resources often prioritize their appearance and hope to appear younger and more energetic. They perceive it as a means to increase their power and resources,” Zhou told NewsChina.  

Toxic Trend 
Zhou’s analysis highlights Liu Guangming’s case, where her obsession with appearance and beauty contributed to her rapid rise through the ranks.  

“Objectively speaking, good looks can boost confidence and attractiveness in many professional settings, including officialdom. As people age and their beauty fades, many, including officials, turn to cosmetic services to maintain their appearance,” Zhou said.  

In April 2019, a court verdict shed more light on this specific brand of corruption. The case involved Zhang Honghong, a former official at the Ministry of Natural Resources, who embezzled public funds to indulge in expensive cosmetic services, including hormone therapy and detox regimens in Thailand that cost more than 1 million yuan (US$140,000). In China, Zhang underwent “vaginal rejuvenation” that cost more than 520,000 yuan (US$72,714), skin treatments that cost nearly 150,000 yuan (US$20,975) and other beauty services. According to the verdict, Zhang was found to have embezzled over 10 million yuan (US$1.4m) in public funds.  

Another case involved Ji Rongjuan, a former official with the Hunan provincial government stationed in Shenzhen who had a penchant for massages. According to the 2018 verdict, she spent thousands of yuan at different massage parlors in Shenzhen and also underwent several facial cosmetic surgeries.  

In some instances, bribes accepted by male officials were directed toward their wives. For example, Hu Ran, wife of Wen Shuzhong, former director of a district-level public security branch in Zhuzhou, Hunan Province, spent more than 670,000 yuan (US$93,689) on a single treatment at a local salon, according to the CCDI website.  

“She got plastic surgery on nearly every body part you could, from head to toe,” a salon employee told media.  

Wen was removed from his post and put under investigation in 2020. Media reported that the list of bribes he had taken was 10 pages long.  

Bad Look 
Experts acknowledge that corruption involving cosmetic services has become a concerning trend.  

“The CCDI does not oppose cosmetic services. It’s fine for officials to enjoy these services with their own money. The key issue lies in whether the money they use is legally obtained,” said a professor at the National Academy of Governance who spoke with NewsChina on condition of anonymity, adding these transactions are more difficult for investigators to track.  

“Thanks to alternative payment methods like gift cards, many cosmetic services are hard to detect,” Peng Xinlin, a law professor at Beijing Normal University, told NewsChina.  

“Such corruption is like water. If we fail to curb it, it may lead to a flood,” Wei Changdong, a standing council member of the China Against Corruption Law Association and professor at the East China University of Political Science and Law said.  

He views this an escalation from earlier forms of corruption. “Early corruption often revolved around desires for good food. It was a desire based in physical need. But the current pursuit of cosmetic services represents a desire for a luxurious and extravagant life,” he told NewsChina. 

“Corrupt officials, especially female ones, care more about their appearance and what beauty can bring them. This incentivizes their subordinates and stakeholders to go to great lengths to satisfy that need, leading to more rampant cosmetic service-related corruption,” Zhao Chi, a council member of the Chinese Society of Criminology and a professor at Changzhou University, told NewsChina.  

Experts suggest that rectifying the excessive focus on appearance and beauty within officialdom is crucial to combating such corruption.  

“This bad atmosphere should be cracked down on in step with corruption to prevent it from leading to more corruption,” Peng said.  

Encouraging the right aesthetic values in officialdom is essential, as it helps prevent corruption and ensures officials are evaluated based on their true merit.  

“An official’s image should be based on their dedication to work and serving the people. The people’s comments create the best image,” the anonymous professor said. 

Chen Guifen, former vicechairman of the People’s Political Consultative Conference in Yanqing District, Beijing, is investigated in October 2023 for accepting bribes with a signiffcant portion spent on multiple plastic surgeries

Xu Ailian, former mayor of Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, who was investigated in June 2020 and later sentenced to 11 years in prison, was found to have accepted bribes including beauty injections that cost 150,000 yuan (US$20,975) each, as well as covering up the activities of local criminal organizations

Shen Zhili, former vice-president and standing member of the Party commission of the North China University of Technology in Beijing, came under investigation in 2020 for alleged corruption. She is reported to have spent at least 4.5 million yuan (US$600,000) on cosmetic services

Liu Guangming, former director of the taxation bureau in Anshan, Liaoning Province, was detained in 2006 and sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison on corruption charges. She reportedly embezzled millions of yuan to ffnance a series of plastic surgeries