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Chinese official explains expensive watches amid fury on Sina Weibo

Chinese Web users are angry at a photo of a local official smiling at a fatal crash in the country's northeast.

Local official Yang Dacai, smiling at the scene of a crash in Shaanxi province that claimed 36 lives (Weibo/ Caijing Magazine)

A Chinese official issued a statement today after photos of him smiling in front of a grisly crash site provoked the ire of Chinese Web users against emotionally detached, rich leaders. 

Xinhua News photographed provincial work safety official Yang Dacai smiling in front of a double-decker bus -- with an inner-Mongolian license plate -- that hit a methanol tanker early Sunday morning.

The bus burst into flames, and was incinerated, killing all but three of the 39 bus’ passengers.

Some 408,000 – mostly irate -- users on Sina Weibo, the Chinese twitter, have commented on the photo. One Weibo user called Yang an “ape official” and shared a Photoshopped photograph of Yang beside a similarly corpulent ape. Chinese Netizens are apparently even more upset that what many say is an unfeeling, detached leader is also “greedy.”

"Yang Wristwatch Big Brother" 

Critics zeroed in on the expensive, brand-name watches on his wrist: several web users gathered photos of Yang wearing at least five different luxury brand watches, the more extravagant of which allegedly cost several thousands of dollars. The photos are so infamous that some users are calling "Yang Wristwatch Big Brother."

 “There are no non-greedy officials,” said user zxh106.

 “Being an official sure does have its privileges,” said user XSS-15, with a thumbs down emoticon. Attached to the message were the infamous five photo booth-style images of Yang’s various watches.

Other Weibo users raised questions about how a local official can afford so many luxuries.

“Why does he have so many watches? What are they worth? Where do they come from? It’s the public’s right to know,” said STV News on its Weibo feed.

 Yang responded to insinuations that the watches were purchased with ill-gotten funds.

 “Over the past 10 years, I’ve actually purchased five watches. I purchased these watches at different times. They were purchased legitimately, with my own income,” Yang wrote on his own Weibo account.

Resentment toward rich and privileged on social media 

Yang’s case is part of a long-running show of resentment on Sina Weibo against the rich and privileged in the People’s Republic.

The social media site often features trends decrying the corruption and economic injustice fostered by what they call the 富二代 (fu er dai – "rich kids"), the 官二代 (guan er dai – "officials’ kids") and their parents.

In February, the child of two local officials from the eastern city of Hefei burned and disfigured a young woman who refused his romantic advances. Millions of Weibo messages decried the incident as an example of the abuses of powerful officials’ kids.

People can still contribute to the fund for her hospital fees by contacting Ms. Li at 86-15156877191 (China mobile number).

In March, during the administration of China’s college entry examination, a sign encouraging students to study read:

“If you don’t take the college entrance exam, how will you compete with the fu er dai?

The sign provoked much discussion on Sina Weibo about economic inequalities in the education system.  

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