Sat, Dec 29, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Johnny Neihu's NewsWatch: Emeralds: a cadre's worst enemy

By Johnny Neihu 強尼內湖

The story is all too familiar: The wife of a high-ranking politician with a taste for expensive jewelry compromises the reputation and position of her powerful husband through her brazen shopping exploits.

But this particular tale is not news of first lady Wu Shu-jen (吳淑珍) whizzing off to SOGO to do some last-minute Christmas shopping.

No, the spouse I am referring to lives across the water and is none other than Chinese No. 2 Wen Jiabao's (溫家寶) other half Zhang Beili (張倍利) who, like her Taiwanese rival, has a penchant for expensive jewelry.

Seems leaders in Taiwan and China have more in common than they thought.

An article posted on the Los Angeles Times Web site on Dec. 26 entitled "In Beijing, some bling is unwelcome" told how last month TVBS ran a brief story on how Zhang bought a number of jade artifacts, including a pair of earrings worth US$250,000 from Taiwanese jeweler Yu Chong-da (余忠達), while visiting a jewelry show in Beijing last year.

Another jeweler familiar with the predilections of the premierlissimo's wife, Chiou Wei-jung (邱惟鍾), told how Mrs Wen also has a taste for emeralds and Taiwanese coral.

Now, I know that those Chinese have a reputation for eating anything, but chowing down on a coral ciabatta is pushing it just a little (and anyway, isn't coral protected? Maybe the National Police Agency should issue a warrant).

But getting back on track.

Zhang obviously developed a liking for pretty rocks during her formative years digging around in the deserts of western China. According to Communist Party legend, the couple met as they worked in remote Gansu Province as part of a geological team during the Cultural Revolution. Zhang apparently won a three-horse race for studmuffin Wen's affections because of her willingness to visit his dorm and wash his smalls.

Zhang, a career geologist and former vice director of China's national gemstone testing center, is obviously now looking for payback and eager to increase her personal collection of green stuff in return for 15 years of washing the brown stuff out of Wen's Y-fronts (I'm talking about Gobi Desert dust, for those of you with your minds in the gutter).

At least now we know why Wen -- famed for his modest lifestyle and "man of the people" image -- often ends up stuck down a mine (brave man) on New Year's Eve eating dumplings with miners: He has to save money to pay for his wife's bling addiction.

Look at pictures of Zhang on the Internet and you can see why she likes to hang pretty trinkets from every convenient orifice. All those years spent under the harsh desert sun have given her face -- how can I put it politely -- a slightly weathered look. In fact she makes Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) honorary lifetime loser Lien Chan's (連戰) very own weather-beaten wife Lien Fang Yu (連方瑀) look like Jolin Tsai (蔡依林).

May I suggest a full-face jade mask be top of the list for Zhang's next shopping excursion?

But here's where the similarities between the two ladies and their stories end because, as we all know, Wu ended up being savaged to the verge of death by the pro-unification press pack, quickly characterized as a money-crazed, world domination-obsessed female version of wheelchair-bound James Bond baddie Ernst Blofeld.

By contrast, news of Zhang's super shopping spree disappeared from the radar as quickly as it had come into range thanks to some pressure in the right places from the long arm of commie central.

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