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Brother Watch

Brother Watch screen stillThe upper half of this image is a still from a news report on a Chinese provincial official, Yang Dacai, the former head of the Shaanxi Bureau of Work Safety, who became famous when he was photographed smiling at the scene of a horrific traffic accident. Netizens noticed that he was wearing an expensive watch in the photo, and several online vigilantes quickly found other photos of him wearing different brands of luxury watches, none of which he could realistically afford with his official salary. Photos of him and his watches (compiled in the bottom half of the image) spread online, and he became known as "Brother Watch" (表哥) for his large collection of (at least 11) luxury watches. As a result of his online infamy, he was removed from his position and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Luxury goods such as watches and fine liquor are integral to the gift economy between entrepreneurs and government officials in China, and since the anti-corruption campaign began in 2012, openly displaying them or receiving them has become increasingly politically dangerous for officials. As a result of the campaign, luxury goods sales in China have plummeted, with watch sales falling nearly 30%. Recently, netizens have compiled photos of officials appearing at public events without watches but with conspicuous watch-shaped tan lines.


Participant: John OSBURG
Dept. of Anthropology | University of Rochester
Presentation: "Corruption, Anti-Corruption, and the Dynamics of Class Formation in the PRC"