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Uncovering the Secrets of Shanghai’s Red Mansion

The harrowing story behind the dilapidated Shanghai ‘Little Red Mansion’ has gone viral on Chinese social media.

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Chinese underworld kingpin Zhao Fuqiang turned his Shanghai “Little Red Mansion” into a hell on earth for dozens of women who were forced into a life of sex work within his organized crime network. The story has now gone viral on Chinese social media.

At number 632 on the intersection of Xuchang Road (许昌路) and Huimin Road (惠民路) in Shanghai’s Yangpu District, there is a six-story building that is locally known as the ‘Little Red Mansion.’

The Red Mansion has everything to do with Zhao Fuqiang (赵富强), a man who made headlines in September of 2020 when he appeared before a Shanghai court in relation to gang-related crimes.

Zhao Fuqiang and 37 other defendants were found guilty of leading and participating in organized crime, rape, prostitution, fraud, bribery and corruption. The court found that Zhao had been active as a criminal underworld leader since 2004. During this time, he recruited women and forced them to engage in prostitution for his organization.

The Shanghai Second Intermediate Court gave Zhao the death penalty, while the other 37 defendants were given various sentences, ranging from 30 months to 20 years of imprisonment. One higher government official in Yangpu District by the name of Lu Yan (卢焱) was sentenced to 17 years in prison for taking bribes and serving as an umbrella for Zhao and other criminals.

Zhao Fuqiang

Zhao was the owner of the Red Mansion. Throughout the years, Zhao, who is originally from Taixing in Jiangsu, was able to earn a fortune through his large and powerful business and government network. He ventured into the restaurant industry with his Huichi Huihe (汇吃汇喝) company and ran businesses in Shanghai, Beijing, and Taixing.

The Red Mansion case went trending on Chinese social media this week after China Business Journal (中国经营报) published about it on December 3rd. One article is titled “Uncovering the Secrets of the ‘Little Red House’ – Its Inside Story Is Unimaginable” (“‘小红楼’秘闻被揭开 内情令人难以想象“). The other in-depth article by reporter Cheng Wei (程维) is titled “Exploring the ‘Red House’ in Shanghai” (“探秘上海”红楼”“).

Cheng’s article is a detailed description of the building and its layout, with many photos showing the extravagant rooms and peculiar layout design. Although the reporter gives enough information for readers to get a hint of what was going on in the building before 2020, the other article gives more insights on what actually took place there.

The original title of that article was “In 19 Years, He Turned the Dilapidated “Little Red House” Into Hell on Earth for Victimized Women” (“19年时间他将一座破旧的“小红楼”,打造成迫害女性的无间地狱”). It was published on December 1st by 10PM Reading (@10点阅读) on the Netease news platform, but has since been deleted, although it is still available on some other platforms.

 

From ‘Hairsalon’ to Mansion

 

The main article explains how Zhao Fuqiang, originally a small-town tailor, first arrived in Shanghai in 2000 in search of the big money and that he became active within the world of organized prostitution. His own wife, who studied dance, allegedly first became a prostitute before he recruited a bigger group of young female migrant workers through his wife’s network.

The author claims that Zhao used threats and physical violence to get these young, rural women to work for him. After being raped, beaten, and scared into thinking that nude photos of them would be sent to family and friends, these women ended up having sex for money in one of Zhao’s two newly established Shanghai ‘hair salons,’ where men would pay 150 yuan ($23) per visit. The women would never see a dime of the money they earned for Zhao.

With the money Zhao earned through his ‘hair salon’ business, he ventured out into the world of subletting shops in the city. Through the help of his dubious yet powerful network, Zhao got his hands on over 1000 shops which he was able to sublet without ever making a big investment. In a timeframe of nearly two decades, Zhao probably made around one billion yuan ($156 million) from this.

Since his business was anything but legal, Zhao needed a safety net to protect him. Higher officials and big business figures could not be seen visiting one of his ‘hair salons,’ so he needed a more secure place to welcome his guests.

At the six-story so-called Little Red Mansion in Shanghai’s Yangpu district, Zhao would invite high-level governmental and business people. The security cameras within the building recorded them, potentially serving as blackmail material.

The place that once was the ‘Red Mansion.’

The article tells the story of one of the girls who was recruited to work at the Red Mansion. Chen Qian (陈倩) was a fresh graduate, studied in the U.S., and she first came to Zhao after seeing an appealing recruitment ad in the media that offered a high salary for a job at Zhao’s restaurant company.

After it became clear to Chen that her job would actually involve having sex with Zhao’s clients, there was no way for her to escape in a heavily secured environment. When the young woman finally had an opportunity to leave the premises to go to a bank in 2017, she asked the staff to alert the police to tell them about her situation and that of the other women who were held captive as sex slaves by Zhao.

It did not end well for Chen, since the police doubted her story. Zhao, who brought Chen’s mother to the police station, was able to convince the local authorities that it was just a matter of domestic dispute, and Chen was later put on house arrest without access to her phone, and she was beaten for her attempted escape.

To make matters worse, Zhao had also thought of an additional way to exploit the women he controlled: egg donation. Chen was one of the women who reportedly was forced to have a surgical procedure to sell her eggs to (illegal) fertility agencies in order for Zhao to make more money.

In Chen’s case, the procedures for egg retrieval at the clinic caused an abnormal build-up of fluid in the abdomen, and she eventually became infertile because of it.

 

The Red House Prison

 

A dance teacher by the name of Cui Qian (崔茜) was another victim of Zhao. Like Chen, she was also forced to donate her eggs, leaving her depressed and anxious. Having a Shanghai household registration, she was eventually forced to marry Zhao in order for him to officially become a Shanghai resident.

Women like Cui and Chen were not just imprisoned by the actual walls of the Red Mansion; Zhao made sure that their social circumstances would make it virtually impossible for them to leave by also recruiting their family members as helpers or cleaning staff. The Red House was not just where they all worked, it was all where they all lived.

When Cui filed for divorce in 2019, and again filing a report against Zhao for rape – an earlier report in 2018 was ignored by authorities – things finally started rolling. In front of the court, Cui Qian told about Zhao’s practices of bribery and forced prostitution, along with naming a number of people within higher-level positions as accomplices.

Cui’s actions led to Zhao’s downfall. Later that year, in 2019, he would finally be arrested after nearly two decades of running his illegal businesses.

However, the tragedy does not end with Zhao’s arrest. Besides the trauma experienced by his victims, the women in the Red House also gave birth to babies who allegedly were left without official registration, making it impossible for them to attend school or receive healthcare.

 

Exploring the Mansion

 

In the article by reporter Cheng Wei, we can see what the Red Mansion looked like after it was abandoned in 2019.

The author describes how the building, which once was a hotel and a teahouse, was somewhat of a mystery to locals, who had no idea what was going on there.

The Red Mansion after its closure in 2019.

The reporter describes how the first few floors of the building were basically all storage rooms, while some floors (such as 2nd floor) also had beds and rooms which looked like migrant workers’ lodging.

The building’s fifth floor had some basic guests rooms, some more luxurious than the others, just like any regular Shanghai hotel.

The sixth floor is the building’s most luxurious one, where the reporter saw upscale guest suites and a reception hall that one would expect to see in a palace.

Some of the rooms even had iPhone and iPad boxes and manuals in the bedside drawers, suggesting that guests would even find these kinds of complementary devices in their rooms besides the lavish bathrooms and closets filled with lingerie.

One of the rooms in the abandoned building, image by Cheng Wei.

The sixth floor was also home to the so-called “Fourteen Beauties Suite,” the largest room with seven bunk-beds, accessible through a hidden door (which looks like a regular mirror).

The mirror in this room is actually a door. From the other side, there’s also a concealed door leading to a closet which then leads to the women’s dorm. Photo by Cheng Wei.

On the same floor, there is also a dressing room and bathroom with enough space for up to 4-7 people.

According to the reporter, all closets in the suites have women’s clothings, from lingerie to role playing outfits and stockings.

The main rooms and corridors are equipped with digital combination door locks, so that people can’t enter any floor or room without knowing the required codes.

Besides discovering concealed doors, the reporter also found some left-behind documents, including time schedules for women’s training classes (dancing, performance) and books relating to female self-cultivation and etiquette.

 

Online Anger

 

On Weibo, the Red Mansion story has blown up and is also being censored. The hashtags used by China Business Journal in its post have also been taken offline. Meanwhile, hundreds of netizens are still putting together the pieces on what happened at the Red Mansion.

“I’m reading and screenshotting at the same time,” one Weibo user writes:

“I initially just thought this obviously was a prostitution case, but then I came to find out it was not just that..There are too many questions about officials shielding one another, the social grievances, and so on. Thinking your back was leaning against a big tree, only to find out it actually is a man-eating tiger. I’m slowly starting to understand what it means to speak out. This issue will probably be forgotten once again within a short while, but the memories of one person are also the memories of millions!”

“How many Red Mansions are there out there?” some other commenters wonder,with others writing: “How on earth is it possible that this place was able to exist for such a long time?!”

Many people are angered because Zhao allegedly was able to continue for so long through the help of people working for local authorities.

Others are also angry because the topic is being censored online, saying that the women who were victimized by Zhao are being silenced once again.

“When I first read this, I thought it was something that happened long ago,” one commenter writes: “But this is all so recent!” Others also write that they are shocked that this could happen in downtown Shanghai right in front of everyone, without anyone knowing.

Although many say that Zhao deserves nothing but the death penalty, which he already was given, they also call for more transparency regarding the local authorities who made it possible for him to run his ‘business’ for nearly two decades.

“These people can’t be punished enough,” some say.

“This is just too dark,” another Weibo user writes, suggesting that some of the secrets behind the ‘Little Red Mansion’ might just be too dark to ever come to light.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Media

Dutch Olympic Committee Warns Athletes Not To Bring Phones to China, Hu Xijin: “They’ve Watched Too Many Movies”

“These people are participating in the Winter Olympics as if they’re entering a cave with wolves and tigers.”

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News about Dutch Olympic athletes being advised by the country’s Olympic Committee not to bring their own smartphone or laptops to the Winter Olympics in China has become a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media.

On January 11, Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reported that NOCNSF, the umbrella organisation for sports in the Netherlands, issued a warning to partipating Dutch athletes that they should not bring their personal smartphones, tablets, or laptops with them to the Beijing Olympics to avoid Chinese espionage.

NOCNSF spokesman Geert Slot said cybersecurity was part of the risk assessment made but declined to further comment on specific measures. In the article, the advice is described as a “precautionary move” related to concerns over potential cybersecurity safety issues in China.

The Dutch CEO of security company Zerocopter, Erik Ploegmakers, calls the move a “very wise” one, referring to the difficulties of using a VPN within China and mentioning how all online traffic would flow via Chinese internet infrastructure, saying that “China is able to view and manipulate all internet traffic, ‘so you basically carry your past information with you,’ including old messages, training schedules, medical data, contact details, and photos.”

On Chinese social media site Weibo, Global Times commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) commented on the Dutch ‘precautions.’ Until recently, Hu was also the editor-in-chief and party secretary of the state media outlet, and he has over 24 million followers on his Weibo account. He writes:

According to Dutch media reports, the Dutch Olympic Committee has called on Dutch athletes participating in next month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing to leave their mobile phones and laptops at home to avoid having their personal information intercepted by Chinese surveillance systems. Last month, the Australian newsgroup quoted a Canberra security expert as saying foreign athletes’ movements and communication in China would all be monitored around the clock.

This cracks me up. These people are participating in the Winter Olympics as if they’re entering a cave with wolves and tigers. They’ve watched too many movies. Is this is how they look at China, which the IOC entrusted to serve athletes from all around the world? They must think they’re all that. Athletes are just common people once they’re off the field, what kind of intelligence value do they have? Even if a western athlete wanted to ‘defect’ and would shout out “I have information for you!”, the Chinese would probably still ask them to leave.

This entire issue reflects the degree to which Western public opinion has demonized China. It has eroded people’s common sense. How can China have the manpower and resources to build such a gigantic surveillance system? To do what? Western people are looking at China through an American lens. The Winter Olympics are mirroring the ghostly appearance of some Western extremist powers.

Ordinary Chinese people have a good impression of the Netherlands and welcome Dutch athletes to Beijing. The extremists should stop pouring cold water over the warm mutual friendship between the Dutch and Chinese people.

Hu’s post received over 7000 likes and hundreds of comments.

“Do people from around the world think we’re like North Korea or something?” one person responded. Another commenter wrote: “They’d better not come. All of our snowflakes are equipped with small 5G chips, they will be monitored as long as they participate, it’s mainly to see if they’ll pick up things to eat from the floor, to see what they do when it rains, and to check if their urine and stool is showing any irregularities and stuff.”

In other Weibo posts, users said: “I wonder what the Dutch and the Belgian people have to hide?”

The Belgian Interfederal Olympic Committee has also recommended that all Belgian athletes traveling to the Beijing Olympics leave personal laptops and smartphones at home.

The nationalistic blogger GuyanMuchan (@孤烟暮蝉), who has over 6 million Weibo fans, also responded to the issue, writing: “Ridiculous, this is just shameless. As an athlete, what kind of classified information do you have that China would steal from you? Are you all spies with a second identity?”

This is not the first time Dutch people are advised not to bring their regular smartphones or laptops with them to China. In 2018, before a Cabinet delegation went on a trade mission to China, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign affairs also advised travelers to only bring devices without personal data to China. The same advice was also issued for those traveling to Russia, Iran, or Turkey.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

Will Weibo Become 30% State-Media Owned?

Alibaba is allegedly ready to give up its Weibo shares to SMG.

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Bloomberg recently reported that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is preparing to sell its 30% stake in social media platform Weibo. According to people familiar with the matter, Alibaba is negotiating with the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG).

News about Alibaba planning to sell all of its Weibo shares has triggered some online discussions on the Chinese social media platform. Bloomberg was the first to report that the Chinese e-commerce and IT enterprise is talking to the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG) to sell all of its 30% stake in Weibo.

According to Bloomberg, the move relates to regulators wanting to curb the influence of Chinese tech giants in the media sphere. The Bloomberg article claims that SMG, as one of China’s largest state-owned media and cultural conglomerates, stands a higher chance of gaining the approval of Chinese authorities than a private acquirer.

SMG is a large state-owned enterprise with over a dozen TV and radio stations, many newspapers and magazines, various drama & film production and distribution businesses, and more. The company has a major media influence, not only in Shanghai but throughout the country.

According to Weibo’s 2020 annual reports, New Wave held a 45% stake in Weibo, followed by Alibaba with its 30%. New Wave is the holding company by Weibo chairman Charles Chao.

“Weibo will change into another channel for SMG,” some Weibo users predict, with others also sharing their fear that Weibo would become more and more like a platform for official media (“微博现在越来越官方化”).

“This would be a big milestone in the crumbling of Alibaba’s media empire,” another commenter wrote. Some wonder if the developments have more to do with Weibo as a platform, or with Alibaba and its media influence.

In March of 2021, the Wall Street Journal already reported that the Chinese government asked the Alibaba Group to dispose of its media assets due to concerns over the company’s influence in the sensitive media sphere.

“When Alibaba exits and state-owned capital enters, Weibo is expected to magnificently transform into a ‘state-owned enterprise’,” another Weibo user wrote.

Although some commenters worry that Weibo will change for the worse and that there will be more censorship, others see a sunnier future for the social media platform: “It would be good for Weibo to be ‘state-owned’ so that it won’t be controlled by capital to influence public opinion anymore.”

Chinese tech site 36kr also reported about the issue on January 1st, but neither Weibo nor Alibaba or SGM have officially responded yet.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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