Guo stands in front of a Maserati, which she said was a 20th birthday gift. Photo from Guo Meimei's Micro Blog
BEIJING - The country's only national Red Cross society is fighting to hang on to the public's trust after a scandal erupted in which a 20-year-old woman, who claimed to have a link to the society, boasted online about her luxurious lifestyle and triggered concern that donated money was being misused.
The woman talked about her extravagant lifestyle on her micro blog and claimed to be the general manager of a company called Red Cross Commerce, which she said handled advertising on Red Cross vehicles.
Netizens questioned whether the woman named Guo Meimei had financed her lifestyle out of money that had been donated to the society. Some even said angrily they would never donate to the society again.
The row broke after Guo uploaded pictures of what she claimed were her Maserati and Lamborghini cars, expensive handbags and palatial villa.
She has since become the hottest topic on the country's major micro blog website, weibo.com. The number of her "fans" on the micro blog shot up from several hundred to more than 108,000 by Thursday night.
A "V" sign on Guo Meimei's page, meaning that her personal information had been checked and verified by Sina Corp, the operator of Weibo.com, has been removed.
In a statement, Weibo said Guo had previously said in her personal information that she was an actress and, after approval, she changed it to "general manager of Red Cross Commerce".
Weibo apologized to the Red Cross and its users for failing to carefully review Guo Meimei's information and pledged to tighten up the verification process.
Faced with a huge number of angry netizens asking for an explanation, the Red Cross society posted an announcement on its homepage, saying there was no such company as Red Cross Commerce under the Red Cross Society of China and noting that the organization did not have an employee named Guo Meimei.
"We only use 999 ambulances, on which we never print advertisements," said Ding Shuo, the director of the society's policy and regulation department, on Thursday.
However, the announcement failed to calm many netizens' anger and online sleuths continued to dig for evidence and raise questions.
One netizen claimed to have connected Guo Meimei to the Red Cross Society of China's vice-president, Guo Changjiang, and alleged that Guo Changjiang had a micro blog of his own that followed only four other people's micro blogs. One of the four allegedly belonged to Guo Meimei.
In response, Guo Changjiang said Guo Meimei was not his daughter and later shut down his micro blog.
"Guo Changjiang only has a son, but not a daughter," Yang Lan, a Chinese TV celebrity, insisted on her micro blog, on Wednesday.
In the face of mounting online anger, Guo Meimei wrote on her micro blog on Wednesday that she had no relationship with the Red Cross Society of China or Guo Changjiang.
"I am an actress the rumors have hurt me," she wrote. "I and my family members are taxpayers. How can people attack us about how we spend our money?"
Zhao Zizhong, a professor at the Communication University of China, said the whole incident was likely staged in a bid to get attention.
"It is a show," Zhao said. "The whole affair seems like a stunt to gain media attention."
He added that it did seem immoral of Guo Meimei to flaunt her wealth and use the name of the Red Cross Society of China.
The reputation of the society was tainted in April when a picture of an invoice was uploaded on the Internet that claimed to show that the Luwan branch of the Red Cross Society of China in Shanghai had spent 9,859 yuan ($1,524) on a meal. The bill meant each seat at the table cost more than 500 yuan.
People were infuriated at the time and said money they had donated should have been used to help those in need instead of funding an expensive meal for employees.
(China Daily 06/24/2011 page4)