China blocks New York Times website after report on top official's wealth

 

Beijing

An explosive story about the massive wealth accumulated by the family of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao caused the Chinese government to block the website of the New York Times early Friday morning, just days before a sensitive once-in-a-decade transition of power from Wen and others to a new generation of leaders.

The article documents assets controlled by Wen's family worth at least $2.7 billion, a shocking figure even in a country where government corruption is rampant and popular resentment against the elite has increased in recent years. The scandal also complicates the apparent intention of Chinese leaders to tackle corruption as a main issue at the Nov. 8 party congress, a move they have been signaling in the wake of other scandals that had dramatically shaken the party's core leadership.

This month, the party took the rare step of accusing another prominent leader, Bo Xilai, of alleged massive corruption and wealth, but only as it began the process of purging him. He had a central role in China's biggest political scandal in the past two decades, which involved the murder of a British businessman.

On Friday morning, China formally expelled Bo from the country's top legislature, the National People's Congress, where he was a deputy.

Wen is an especially vulnerable figure to charges of corruption because he has carefully cultivated an image as a benevolent figure who is trying to push the system toward greater reform. The wealth of Wen's family, especially of his son and wife, has long been the subject of rumors. His wife was known among political watchers and reform activists for her ownership of a diamond business. But their holdings had not previously been documented in such detail.

In recent years, the slowing economy and a growing rich-poor gap, which has stalled many Chinese families' efforts to climb into the middle class, have exacerbated public resentment of officials who are often able to operate on an entirely different level in business because of their connections.

In June, Bloomberg News reported that the extended family of Vice President Xi Jinping, who is poised to take over as president, had amassed $376 million. Government censors, apparently spooked, took the unusual step of not just censoring online discussion of the story but shutting down Chinese access to the Bloomberg site entirely.

The blocking of the New York Times website sets back an effort by the company to attract Chinese readers and advertising. This summer, it launched a new Chinese-language website, which had the potential of drawing especially on China's booming luxury industry for revenue. After the story about Wen's wealth had run on the English-language website Friday morning, both versions were blocked completely by the government.

The Times story was first posted on the English-language site and then translated and posted on the Chinese site after a short delay.

"We hope that full access is restored shortly, and we will ask the Chinese authorities to ensure that our readers in China can continue to enjoy New York Times journalism," Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said. "China is an increasingly open society, with increasingly sophisticated media, and the response to our [Chinese] site suggests that The Times can play an important role in the government's efforts to raise the quality of journalism available to the Chinese people."

Chinese news websites run by independent foreign media have been complicated ventures for Western companies in the past because they are often spared uncensored access to the Chinese market only with the government approval.

- - -

Max Fisher and Zhang Jie contributed to this report.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot