The Tengzhou City Government Office Building

(  On June 14, a series of photographs entitled <Let us look at the Tengzhou city government office building!!  This is awesome!!> was posted at the Xinhua forum.  The name of the netizen who posted it was "Baizhantang123" (白展堂123).  At the time, the central government was trying to crack down on the waste of public funds on Luxurious Government Office Buildings in China, and so this post drew broad attention. 

Here are the photographs:

On June 16, it was reported on the Internet that netizen Baizhantang123 has been arrested by the local public security bureau.  It was claimed that this news has been verified through many channels.  At the major portals, netizens demand that the Tengzhan city authorities must release Baizhantang immediately and make a truthful explanation of the incident.  The authorities must also apologize to Baizhantang and compensate him for his mental suffering.

The netizens also want answers to the following questions.

1. Was Baizhantang arrested purely on account of his post exposing the luxurious office building of the Tengzhou city government?
2. Why did the public security bureau of Tengzhou arrest Baizhantang?
3. Who ordered the public security bureau of Tengzhou to arrest Baizhantang?
4. Why is the Tengzhou city government so afraid of exposure?

Here is a news investigative piece from Beijing Youth Daily (June 24, 2007):

[in translation]

The first person to post about the arrest was the netizen with the alias "qichonghuai", who used to be the Jinan bureau chief for <Legal System Morning News>.  "qichonghuai" said that Baizhantang's real family name is Ma and they are personal friends.  Qinchonghuai confirmed that Ma has been arrested.

The reporter then interviewed the wife of Ma whose family name is Li.  She confirmed that her husband has been arrested.

The Criminal Investigation Unit's case officer Xu Feng told the reporter that on the day of the arrest, Ma went to a distributor of transformers and claimed to be a reporter of <Legal System Daily News>.  Ma demanded compensation for consumers to the tune of 3,000 or 5,000 yuan.  The distributor asked Ma to show his press card and then determined it to be a piece of forgery.  Therefore, the distributor took Ma down to the Criminal Investigative Unit.  The police went on the Internet and confirmed that the press card was forged (note: there is an Internet database of all officially registered reporters).  Therefore, Ma was placed under arrest.

Ma was born in 1964 and he is not a reporter with <Legal System Daily News>.  He is presently unemployed, but he usually roams around with a camera.  He often supplies tips to various media, including "qichonghuai."

According to a person at the advertising department of <Tengzhou Daily News> who used to the supervisor of Ma, the press card was fake for certain but "Ma will write what real reporters don't dare to and he has the courage to speak the truth."  The police had interviewed him about Ma's problems and asked about that forum post.  "At the time, I told the police that Ma did not make that post."  This was because this person did not think that Ma was capable of taking such good photographs.

"qinchonghuai" believes that Ma made the post, because he and Ma had gone to see that building a few days ago and discussed the idea of taking photographs to post at the Xinhua forum.  Then he saw that such a post actually appeared at the Xinhua forum.  Therefore he believes that Ma must be Baizhantang because he thinks that the probability of a coincidence is too small.

Li recalled that her husband told her that he wanted to post photographs of the luxurious city government building on the Internet but he was worried that this might cause trouble.  She advised her husband "not to post them" but she does not know whether he ultimately did so.

The reporter looked up previous posts by Baizhantang and one of the them mentioned that he was in Guizhou around May 1st.  Li said that Ma was in Guizhou around May 1st.  But Baizhantang mentioned in another post that he was working at a certain telecommunications department, which is not in Ma's work experience.

The Tengzhou public security bureau gave the reporter a document titlted "Situational explanation of the arrest of netizen Baizhantang123."  The document said that Ma stated that he had never posted at the Xinhua forum and therefore the information in posts by "qichonghuai" were inaccurate.  That is to say, the person arrested by the police was not "Baizhantang123."

The police officer Xu Feng in charge of the case said that before the reporter showed up, they had no idea about "Baizhantang123" or anything about netizens exposing the luxurious government office building in Tengzhou city.  "Baizhantang123" is not Ma.  It is also irrelevant to the case.  Therefore, they did not investigate that aspect, and they will not do so either.

Here is the response from the Tengzhou city government (Southern Metropolis Daily):

[in translation]

According to the Tengzhou city publicity department: The building is not luxurious; it just happens to be new.

The officials said that they have no idea who "Baizhantang" is.

Tengzhou city publicity department's deputy director Liu Shuju said that he welcomes media reports on the case, because the media can clear up the Internet rumors that have plagued them.

Concerning the office building, publicity department's information office head Zhao Yuexiang is angry.  He said that the building is not luxurious and it is only new.  He said that the building was completed last year.  "It seems very big, but it accommodates 49 different departments!  Four or five people share one office.  It is quite congested."  Zhao said.

Zhao said that the old office for the party and the government was decrepit.  "The relevant departments determined that it was a dangerous building that posed risks to the workers and refused permission for further use.  We were therefore forced to erect a new building."

He said that the costs were reduced by concentrating many departments in the same building and it also increased work efficiency.  "The old building in the prime area has been used for development and it will accelerate the economic development in that area." ...

Zhao Yuexiang said that people do not understand certain things about the building.  "We can understand some of these notions.  We did not interfere with any Internet comments.  We have not investigated 'Baizhantang.'"  Zhao said that they have seen the forum post.  "The post did not say anything about luxurious buildings.  It did not offer any viewpoints.  We thought that it was he made the post because he was proud of the Tengzhou city government office building.  We did not pay any attention to it."

Zhao thought that it was the follow-up post by 'qichonghuai' which made things more complicated.  "He created the rumor that the man named Ma was arrested on account of the post and this became a big Internet affair.  Actuallly, Ma has no idea who Baizhantang is and he did not make that post.  We still don't know who Baizhantang is and we are not going to find out either."

Zhao said that the local government feels aggrieved that it is being condemned on the Internet.  "We are organizing people to clarify on the Internet and we have reported to our superiors about what is happeneing.  We hope to get support and assistance."

On June 24, 2007 (19:27:25), someone using the Baizhantang123 ID posted at the Xinhua Net forum:

[in translation]

Rumors!  Do not believe in the rumors spread by people with ulterior motives.  Someone said that I have been arrested.  Let me solemnly state this: I was only re-posting something by someone else.  Please do not be misled by people with ulterior motives!  I thank everybody for their concern!

I have informed the forum.  Anyone with a brain should have knocked down those without brains.  But they won't believe you no matter what you say.  Besides, I am a victim here.

I don't know whether I ought to laugh or cry.  I only found this out when I got on the Internet on Friday.  The rumor is definitely created by someone with ulterior motives for some ulterior purpose!

Some people only want chaos under heaven.

(Beijing News)  June 28, 2007.

[in translation]

On June 14, netizen "Baishantang123" dragged the Tengzhou government into the virtual world when he posted photographs of the luxurious city government office building at the Xinhua Net forum.

Then came some puzzling developments.

On June 18, netizen "qichonghuai" claimed his friend Ma Shiping was "Baishantang" and he has been arrested by the public security bureau in Tengzhou.  The news caused anger among netizens.

With respect to "qichonghuai"'s claiim, the Tengzhou city publicity department and the public security bureau told the media that the arrested Ma Shiping was not "Baizhantang."

A dramatic twist occurred on June 25 when "Baishantang" re-surfaced on the Internet and said that he had not been arrested.  At midnight on the same day, "qichonghuai" was arrested in his Jinan home by the Tengzhou public security bureau on "suspicion of having committed an economic crime."

Afterwards, the wife of Ma Shiping named Li said that what she had previously told the media about her husband wanting to post the government office building photographs on the Internet were arranged by "qichonghuai."

It is not known who "Baizhantang" is, but the content of his post was truthful.  The Tengzhou city government office building cost almost 300 million yuan to construct.  The site has one main building and three other buildings, with a large underground car park and many department clubhouses.  This luxurious building is known as the "Tengzhou city government administration center."

The post by Qi Chonghuai was carried by Tianya, MOP, Netease and other big websites and it was popular among netizens.

On the day when the post first appeared on June 14, the Tengzhou publicity department saw those photographs of the city government office building.  In the photographs, the 12-storey-tall main building was crescent-shaped with a round dome on top.

Four days later, they saw that netizen "qichonghuai" posting the news that Baizhantang had been arrested.  At the time, they were sure that this was a rumor, because their Internet administrators were unaware of it.

"qichonghuai"'s real name is Qi Chonghuai and he lives in Jinan.  He claims to be the chief of the Jinan bureau of <Legal System Morning News>.  On June 25, he told our newspaper reporter that "Baizhantang" is his friend Ma Shiping.  On June 6, he and Ma Shiping walked past the Tengzhou city government office building.  They saw its luxurious state and spoke about taking photographs to post on the Internet.  Therefore, he deduced that Ma Shiping published that post.

Afterwards, Qin Chonghuai's post was published at Tianya, MOP, Netease and other websites and became a popular topic.  Many netizens said that the Baizhantang case "is not only about the freedom of speech by citizens but it is also a well-intended and righteous act that is consistent with the attempt by the central government to stop the illegal local constructions."

For a while, the netizens were outraged by the arrest of Baizhantang for exposing the luxurious government office building.

On June 21, the Tengzhou publicity department saw that the rumor has spread wider and wider and the effects were getting worse.  So they contacted the public security bureau's Internet division.

The Tengzhou public security bureau told them that they have arrested an individual, but they had not even been aware of the Internet post.

Afterwards, the Tengzhou public security bureau interrogated Ma Shiping and asked me if he had the ID of "Baizhantang123."  But Ma Shiping firmly denied it.

On June 22, the Tengzhou public security bureau submitted a report titled <Explanation concerning the arrest of the netizen named "Baishantang"> in order to clarify matters.  On that day, the publicity department sent some information to some of the national media who wanted information on this case.

In this report that had an official stamp of the local police, the public security bureau admitted that they have arrested an individual.  But this individual has nothing to do with Baizhantang, and the police do not know who is Baizhantang.

The reporter also found out that "Baizhantang123" made three posts in March and April which mentioned his own situation at a Electricity Department in a certain city in Shandong.  This does not match the experience of the arrested Ma Shiping.  The post claimed, "I am with the Electricity Department in city XX, Shandong province.  My annual income is only 17,800 yuan."  I "have worked 16 yaers at the Electricity Department, and I still only make just over 1,400 yuan per month."

The reporter called the Electricity Department and was told that no one there had been arrested by the police recently.

With the confirmation that this was a rumor, certain web portals began to delete the posts that carried the rumor.  But the deletion of the posts created greater netizen anger and the criticisms became more vehement.  The Tengzhou publicity department organized people to make large number of posts to clarify, but their voices were quickly drowned out.

"There was nothing that we could do now.  We are too small compared to the hundreds of millions of netizens out there," said an official with the Tengzhou city publicity department.

Who is Ma Shiping?

"Shiping wrote news articles for old Qi."  On June 27, Ma Shiping's wife Li told the reporter that her husband is 43 yars old and used to work at <Tengzhou Daily>.  Last year, he started working with Qi Chonghuai.

Cui Guangde, who is the leader of the advertising department of <Tengzhou Daily> said that Ma Shiping had been a temporary worker in his department in 2004.  "He was a nice person, but he was not good with advertising sales."  In July 2005, <Tengzhou Daily> cleaned up their temporary work staff and Ma Shiping was let go.

"He dares to write what real reporters don't dare.  He dares to speak the truth."  On June 23, Southern Metropolis Daily quoted Ma Shiping's former boss.  But Ma Shiping does not have formal employment and he does not have a press card.

An acquaintence said, "He roamed around with a camera and he provided tips to many media outlets inside and outside of Shandong."

On June 27, with the assistance of Ma Shiping's wife, the reporter turned on Ma's computer and did not find the photographs of the Tengzhou city office building.  But she confirmed that her husband was arrested on June 16.  He is presently being held in a detention center close to her home.

Yan Cheng is the person who took Ma Shiping down to the police.  He is with the Dongyuan Electrical Engineering Company.  He had purchased some poor quality transformers from a local factory and he wanted compensation.  Someone introduced him Ma Shiping, "who likes to write critical reports."

On the evening of June 15, Yan Cheng took Ma Shiping out to dinner.  Ma Shiping came with another person.  "At the time, he promised me that he would help me take care of the case.  The person who came with him said that some money will be needed."

Yan Cheng saw that the two of them have bank account numbers on their b usiness card.  At the time, he became suspicious of Ma Shiping's status as a reporter and he asked to inspect Ma's press card.  Then they arranged to visit the factory the next day.

That night, Yan Cheng got on the Internet and looked up the anti-forgery markers on real press cards.  The next day, he asked to see Ma Shiping's press card again and confirmed that this was a forgery after checking the markers.

Yan Cheng asked Ma Shiping to go down to the police station to verify the press card.  Ma Shiping agreed readily.  They went down to the Yinghe police station but they could not find any militia police officers.  So they went to the Tengzhou Crime Squad.  The police looked up Ma Shiping on the Internet and determined the press card was fake.

On the morning of June 18, Li received a letter from the police that her husband has been criminally detained for "swindling and bluffing."

One week later, Baizhantang appeared.  On the afternoon of June 26, Banzhantang re-surfaced at the Xinhua forum.  A post titled: "I am Baizhantang123.  This post dispels the rumors!" was posted by that ID with the message: "When I read that I was arrested, I was befogged.  I want to let people know the truth and to restore the good name of the Tengzhou government."

On that same night, Qi Chonghuai was arrested.

At just past 10pm on the night of June 25, three police cars appeared outside Qi Chonghuai's building in a certain Jinan neighborhood.  Four or five police officers demanded to be let in.

Qi Chonghuai called a reporter with an excited voice: "I might be arrested tonight.  If I don't contact  you tomorrow, then I must have been arrested.  You can contact my wife."

Jiao, the wife of Qi Chonghuai, told the reporter that Qi refused to open the door.  The police broke down the door.  Four Tengzhou public security bureau officers showed their detention order and search warrant and took Qi Chonghuai back to Tengzhou.

A leader with the Tengzhou public security bureau confirmed the news on the next day.  The person said that Qi Chonghuai was arrested on "suspicion of economic crimes."

In the mind of Ma Shiping's wife, she was counting on Qi Chonghuai to rescue her husband.  Ma's wife told the reporter that when she found out on June 18 that her husband had been arrested by the police, she called Qi Chonghuai and said: "Old Qi, Shiping worked for you.  He is now in trouble.  You must try to save him."  Qi Chonghuai said, "Alright, alright.  I'll do my best to save him."

At around 11am on June 20, Qi Chonghuai called Ma's wife: "A reporter will be interviewing you in the afternoon.  You tell him that Shiping posted the photographs."

"But I had no idea about those photographs."  Li was interviewed by a certain media outlet from Guangdong but did not say what Qi Chonghuai asked her to say.  Qi Chonghuai was very angry when he found out that afternoon and called her: "You people are useless.  Why didn't you say what I arranged for you to say?  If you follow what I say, there will be 100,000 supporting Shiping.  Then Shiping will be saved."

At 10pm that evening, the reporter from that media outlet called again to fill out some gaps.  Li followed Qi Chonghuai's script: "The husband told her that he was point to post the government office photographs at Xinhua Net, but he was somewhat worried."

Li said that Ma Shiping had never mentioned anything about exposing the Tengzhou city government building.  "I don't understand what he does when he gather news.  He does not have the  habit of informing me."

According to Ma's wife, Qi and Ma got acquainted in 2006.  At the time, Qi Chonghuai claimed to be the bureau chief of <Legal System Morning News>.  "Old Qi wanted Shiping to work with him.  There was going to be a great future.  If anything went wrong, old Qi would take care of it."

"Qi Chonghuai gave Ma Shiping a press card and wanted him to set up a bureau in Tengzhou.  All Ma Shiping had to do was to pay 18,000 yuan to Qi.  Since Ma did not have the money, the Tengzhou bureau was never set up.

"Shiping often went out to gather news," Li recalled.  When there was something big that he could not handle alone, he would call old Qi to work together.

On June 27, <Legal System News>'s Shandong province bureau chief Yuan Chengben explained that <Legal System Morning News> (which is part of Legal System News>) does not have a news bureau in Shandong province.

In July 2006, <Legal System News> issued a work permit to Qi Chonghuai, but his duty was to handle the distribution of <Legal System Morning News>.  In October 2006, <Legal System Morning News> ceased publication and became <Legal System News: Weekend>.  Qi Chonghuai's work permit was then taken back.

Yuan Chengben said that the police investigation showed that Qi Chonghuai manufactured more than 200 fake press cards and fake information worker cards.  In Tengzhou, two other people have them besides Ma Shiping.

In truth, Qi Chonghuai who is presently in custody has no idea who Baizhantang is.  The local police do not know either.  According to the Tengzhou police investigator Xu Feng in charge of the case: "This has nothing to do with the case.  So we did not investigate and we don't intend to investigate."

On the night when Qi Chonghuai was arrested, Baizhantang posted again: "Rumors are frightening!  An ordinary citizen could never have experienced this before!  My email box is bursting.  I am about to fall apart!  Have I become a celebrity overnight?  Please don't put me on the fire to roast!"