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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.

Manya Koetse

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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 founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Media

No Hashtags for Mahsa Amini on Chinese Social Media

“Why is that every time Mahsa Amini is mentioned, it somehow gets linked to America?”

Manya Koetse

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While the death of Mahsa Amini and the unrest in Iran is a major news story worldwide, the incident and its aftermath received relatively little attention in Chinese media, where the narrative is more focused on how Western responses to the issue are intensifying anti-American sentiments within Iran.

Her name in Chinese is written as 玛莎·阿米尼, Mǎshā Āmǐní. Mahsa Amini is the young Iranian woman whose death made international headlines this month and triggered social unrest and fierce protests across Iran for the past ten days, killing at least 41 people.

The 22-year-old Amini was arrested by morality police in Tehran on 16 September for allegedly not wearing her hijab according to the mandatory dress code for women while she was visiting the city together with her family. According to eyewitness accounts, Amini was severely beaten by officers before she collapsed and was taken to the hospital where she died three days later.

The protests following Amani’s death were visible in the streets, but also on social media where Iranian women posted videos of themselves cutting off their hair as a sign of mourning and protest, asking others to help raise awareness on Amini’s death and violence against women amid internet shutdowns in the country.

There were also protests outside of Iran in other places across the world. In London, protesters clashed with police officers during a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy on Monday.

On Chinese social media platform Weibo, Chinese news site The Observer (观察者网) reported Amini’s death and the ensuing protests on September 22, but the hashtag selected to highlight the post did not focus on Amini.

Instead, it emphasized the reaction of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which accused the United States and other Western countries of using the unrest as an opportunity to interfere in Iran’s internal affairs (hashtag: “Iran Denounces the US and other Western Countries #伊朗谴责美西方#).

The hashtag decision is noteworthy and also telling of how the developments in Iran have been reported by Chinese (online) media sources, which evade the topic of anti-government protests and instead focus on pro-regime marches and anti-American sentiments.

On China’s Tiktok, Douyin, as well as on Weibo, the Chinese media outlet iFeng News posted a video showing Iranian pro-government, anti-American protests on September 25, featuring interviews with veiled women speaking out in support of their country and showing “down with America” slogans and people burning the American flag.

In the comment sections, however, people were critical. One of the most popular comments said: “It must have been difficult organizing all these people.” Another person wrote: “Ah now I am starting to understand that it must have been Americans who beat the girl to death for not properly wearing her hijab.”

But there were also Chinese netizens who said that Iran was seeing a “color revolution” (颜色革命) initiated by the West, suggesting that foreign forces, mainly the U.S., are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

China Daily also published a video on Douyin in which they featured Iranian political analyst Foad Izadi who said that the demonstrators in Iran could be divided into two groups: one group cared about “a young woman losing her life,” but a second group are people “linked to terrorist organisations based outside Iran.”

Chinese media commentator Zhao Lingmin (赵灵敏) posted a video in which she spoke about the situation in Iran and provided more background information on the history of the country, during which she noted how one Iranian official had supposedly said that “the only two civilizations in Asia worth mentioning are Iran and China.”

Zhao explained how Iran officially became the Islamic Republic in April of 1979 as 98.2% of the Iranian voters voted for the establishment of the republic system in a national referendum.

Videos using the Douyin hashtag “Iran’s Amini” (#伊朗阿米尼) were seemingly taken offline while various images included in Weibo posts about Mahsa Amini and the unrest in Iran were also censored.

“It’s good that we can follow the situation here [on this account], because it’s been removed at others,” one commenter said in response to one post about the many protests following the young woman’s death.

Searches for Amini’s name came up with zero results on the website of Chinese state media outlets CCTV and Xinhua, where the last article about Iran was about how Iranian people think “America can’t be trusted.”

The official Weibo account of the Iranian Embassy in China did post a statement about Amini on September 23, writing that Iranian authorities have ordered an investigation into her tragic death and that the protection of human rights is an intrinsic value to Iran, “unlike those who use ‘human rights’ as a tool to suppress others.” “America must end its economic terrorism instead of shedding crocodile tears,” the last line said. That post received over 11,000 likes.

“Why is that everytime the Mahsa incident is mentioned, it somehow gets linked to America?!” one popular comment said, with another person also responding: “Sure enough, the U.S. gets blamed for everything.”

“So it was the Americans who killed her?” some Chinese netizens sarcastically wrote in response to the post by The Observer, which also mentioned the U.S. in their report of Mahsa’s death.

“I don’t know the exact circumstances, but I support the right of women not to wear a veil,” others said. “Men and women are equal, women should have the freedom to wear what they want and have education and get a job and have some fun,” another Weibo commenter wrote.

One Zhejiang-based Weibo user wrote: “The courage of people marching in the streets for freedom is moving. I wish that women will no longer have their freedom restricted through a hijab. What will the 21st century look like? The answer is still blowing in the wind.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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Courage, Camaraderie, and Criticism: The 2022 Sichuan Earthquake on Chinese Social Media

Hashtags and online stories shared on Chinese social media in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan.

Manya Koetse

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These are the hashtags and online stories that are shared on Chinese social media this week during the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan.

On Monday September 5, at 12:52 local time, a strong earthquake struck southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. The 6.8-magnitude earthquake jolted Luding County, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and killed at least 88 people.

The tremor could be felt miles away from the epicenter, including in the provincial capital Chengdu, which is about 220 kilometers from Luding. The earthquake injured more than 270 people, while 30 persons are still missing.

As many netizens shared videos of how they experienced the earthquake, dozens of hashtags went trending on Chinese social media relating to the earthquake and its aftermath, including the 2.9 magnitude aftershock Luding experienced on Wednesday.

There were many stories shared on Weibo relating to the extensive damage and devastation caused by the earthquake. But besides the solidarity statements expressed online, there was also criticism coming from netizens about local authorities prioritising the battle against Covid-19 at such a critical moment.

 
Sharing Stories of Compassion and Camaraderie after Earthquake
 

Bad times sometimes bring out the best in people, and this was shown in the many stories circulating online this week.

The 56-year-old Ms. Gao, who runs a local chicken noodle soup restaurant in the town of Moxi in Luding county, was not at her restaurant when the earthquake hit. But she soon rushed to the disaster area and used all she had left to provide free soup and noodles to local residents and rescue workers, even though Gao, who suffers from breast cancer, is struggling herself (#患癌女子用仅剩一罐气为震区居民做汤面#).

Another Luding country resident, a local farmer named Chen, reportedly spent 12,000 yuan ($1730) out of his own pocket to buy and butcher three giant pigs in order to provide the local residents and fire fighters with roast pork. Chen’s brother additionally donated 1000 kilos of rice so that people in the disaster zone could have some warm meals (#四川兄弟给震区捐3头猪2000斤米#).

On September 9, one Chinese TV reporter who was working in the disaster zone rescued a young child who was separated from his parents during the chaos. Videos showed how the reporter, determined to find the child’s parents, prioritized the child over his work. The little boy was eventually reunited with his mother, who had not slept for 48 hours (#记者受人之托紧抱孩子不撒手#).

Chinese TV reporter deterined to reunite this child with its mother.

These kind gestures and efforts were much needed for those dealing with grief and loss after the earthquake. One man in Luding smiled when a reporter approached him, but he broke down in tears the moment he started talking about losing his sister in the earthquake (#大哥微笑接受采访一开口泪崩了#).

Chinese media outlet Fengmian reported that the 26-year-old rescue worker Qin Xiaoqiang (秦晓强) worked around the clock to rescue and dig out three people who were trapped under the rubble. Afterward, he learned that his own father and sister were killed in the earthquake (#痛失家人特警说要让更多家庭团圆#).

Some families lost all they had in the earthquake. On Weibo, many people donated to various earthquake-related causes via the Weibo Public Good platform (微公益).

Besides the aid charities raising funds thanks to Weibo and Wechat users, there are also dozens of Chinese celebrities who stepped up and donated money to help rescue work in the region. Among them were Chinese actor Leo Wu (Wu Lei, 吴磊) and Chinese actress Rosy (Zhao Lusi, 赵露思) – both made headlines for their contributions to the rescue operation (#吴磊为四川震区捐赠物资#, #赵露思向四川泸定捐赠物资#).

There were also other celebrities, including names such as Zhang Tian’ai and Wang Yibo, who donated money to help fund five Sichuan rescue teams to go to the front lines and to transport basic necessities to Luding County and other affected regions (#王一博为四川震区捐赠物资#).

 
Official Media Accounts Highlight Compassionate & Courageous Rescue Efforts
 

Over the past week, Chinese official state media outlets such as People’s Daily, Xinhua, and CCTV published countless posts on Weibo relating to the earthquake. In covering the earthquake on social media, Chinese state media have a clear human interest angle and make a strong appeal to emotion as many of these posts specifically focus on the rescue and relief efforts and the bravery, compassion, and humanity shown by Chinese rescue workers (#消防武警民兵公安奔赴震区救援#).

On September 8, People’s Daily highlighted the moment an armed officer evacuated a baby from the disaster zone, the small child calmy drinking their milk while safely strapped on the soldier’s back (#震区宝宝在武警背上乖乖喝奶#).

People’s Daily also reported about several firefighters carrying an old lady and getting her out of the earthquake zone.

Global Times published a story and video about a firefighter whose feet were completely blistered and battered after working in the earthquake-hit zones (#震区消防员脚底被磨破#).

Official media published various propaganda posters showing emergency workers, including firefighters, paramedics, and police officers, during the rescue operations. One poster compared the ongoing relief efforts in Luding to those during the 2008 Great Sichuan earthquake or Wenchuan earthquake, during which a devastating 69,000 people lost their lives.

The China Fire and Rescue account shared a “Pray for Luding” poster on Weibo showing emergency workers carrying a special rescue stretcher with the help of volunteers. The hashtag “Pray for Luding” (#为泸定祈福#) received over 280 million clicks within four days time.

State media outlet Xinhua emphasized the bravery shown by young workers operating excavators on dangerously steep hills to clear roads of debris (#震区绝壁上的挖掘机手是90后# and #泸定地震中打通生命通道的孤勇者#).

The story of a team of 24 rescue workers who got stranded in the Hailuogou Scenic Area near Moxi Town also was covered a lot; the rescue workers were at the scene shortly after the earthquake hit but then were unable to get back to due to changing weather conditions. Their safe return was celebrated by various Chinese state media on September 10 (#24名滞留震区孤岛特警全部平安#).

 
Online Grassroots Criticism on Prioritizing Anti-Epidemic Efforts
 

But amid all the online stories and Chinese media narratives focusing on courage, compassion, and camaraderie, there was also criticism, as the strong earthquake put things into perspective regarding China’s ongoing fight against COVID-19 and the zero-Covid policy.

After local health authorities in the disaster area announced a strengthening of epidemic prevention and control measures on September 7, including daily nucleic acid testing for rescue workers and a stop on volunteer rescue workers coming into the area, many people showed little understanding.

“The earthquake is not as important as epidemic prevention,” some wrote.

“People’s lives are at stake and we’re still all about epidemic prevention. The earthquake [apparently] is not as powerful as the ‘big flu’ – it’s really hopeless.”

“Trivia. During the few years of epidemic in Sichuan, a total of three people died. During a few minutes of the earthquake, more than 70 died.” “By now, the mortality rate of this virus is less than the flu,” one person responded.

“The epidemic prevention comes first, people’s lives come second,” others wrote. “What happened to ‘putting people and life first?'” some wondered, mentioning the famous quote by Xi Jinping.

One Weibo user posted a photo of a dog getting tested for Covid, writing: “[China’s] major nucleic acid testing companies allegedly made $16 billion in the first half of this year, so it’s certainly wouldn’t be excessive if they donated some money to the earthquake area, right?”

By Manya Koetse 

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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