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Police have detained Chinese-American venture capitalist Charles Xue, one of the most popular celebrity bloggers in China, on suspicion of visiting a prostitute in Beijing, as authorities crack down on bloggers who have posted sensitive material online.
Better known by his alias Xue Manzi, the naturalized American citizen regularly re-posts reform-minded content and shares his views on issues such as pollution and food safety.
Xue has over 12 million followers on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of the banned Twitter. He was detained Friday evening in a Beijing neighborhood along with a woman, according to police and state media.
As soon as his detention was announced, Xue trended heavily on Weibo.
Most Chinese celebrities and tycoons have enormous followings on Sina Weibo and other social networks, and often use the platform to highlight rights abuses or criticize government policy.
This has prompted a backlash from the ruling Communist Party, which keeps a tight rein on traditional media such as TV, movies and newspapers, but finds it difficult to balance the need to control online content with the commercial opportunities offered by Internet freedom.
Beijing police announced on their microblog on Sunday that a 60-year-old man with the surname Xue had been detained and confessed to visiting a prostitute. It said he had been detained with a 22-year-old woman who had confessed to prostitution.
There have been numerous arrests in recent days of bloggers who have criticized government officials for corruption or negligence.
A commentary in The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, said online celebrities had a lot of power and had “a civic responsibility to deliver more positive and constructive messages and promote virtue and trust.”
The paper cited statistics showing that there were about 200 online users with more than 10 million followers on Sina and Tencent Weibo, China’s microblogging social networks. Another 3,300 users have more than one million followers and 19,000 have more than 100,000 followers.
“With tremendous numbers of ‘fans’ on China’s most influential microblogging service, online celebrities who spread false information can have an unexpectedly negative effect on the public,” the commentary said.
“Online rumors threaten victims’ privacy, harm their reputations, mislead the public and disrupt social order. The spread of rumors violates both morality and the law.”
Even the Global Times newspaper, which is part of the same publishing house as The People’s Daily, seemed to make a link between a crackdown and Xue’s arrest.
“Cannot rule out the possibility that authorities are arresting Xue Manzi with a prostitute to give him a hard time,” Global Times editor Hu Xijin wrote in a blog post that later disappeared, but not before it had been spotted by many readers.
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