Chinese President Hu Jintao allegedly had an affair with a TV anchorwoman while he was vice president. Picture: Hu (center) arrives in Kazakhstan on a state visit on June 12, accompanied by his wife Liu Yongqing (left). He is met by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev (right). (Photo/Xinhua)
Leaked cables from WikiLeaks reveal US diplomats have delighted in acquiring gossip and scandals regarding China's top leadership to add sauce to their conversations with political insiders and journalists.
The most astonishing claim is that President Hu Jintao had an affair with a television anchorwoman in her twenties while he was vice president, according to a 1999 cable sent to Washington from the US consulate in Hong Kong.
The cable said Hu was already "out of favour" with then president Jiang Zemin, his relationship with a woman younger than Hu's own daughter having "scandalised" the elder statesman.
Hu's only confirmed vice was a penchant for ballroom dancing but repeated rumours were circulating among the Chinese elite at the time.
The cable also claimed Prime Minister Wen Jiabao would like to obtain a divorce from his wife, Zhang Beili, heavily involved in China's diamond trade. The cable said Wen was "disgusted by his family's activities. Wen's wife and children all have a reputation as people who can 'get things done' at the right price." Wen particularly disliked his wife for her brazenness in trading on his name, the cable said.
Another cable described how the party elite liked to share mistresses and how one woman was linked with at least three senior figures. The men were alleged to be Jin Renqing, a former finance minister, Chen Tonghai, the former boss of a state oil company, and Du Qinglin, a former agriculture minister.
The woman was believed to be a Taiwan intelligence operative and the rumoured affair seems to have placed a curse on the careers of all three men. Jin resigned in 2007 after rumours of a sex scandal, Chen was given a suspended death sentence for bribery in 2009 and Du resigned abruptly in 2006.
Amid the gossip, backstabbing and greed there were other intriguing anecdotes. One such tale was that Jiang Zemin was secretly a Buddhist who slipped away at 3am to attend lunar new year ceremonies at a temple outside Beijing. The former president was also said to have consulted Taoist sages about matters of state in the manner of China's emperors of old.
Hu Jintao 胡錦濤
Jiang Zemin 江澤民
Jin Renqing 金人慶
Chen Tonghai 陳同海
Du Qinglin 杜青林