Oddly Enough

Chinese officials ordered to quit club following outcry

BEIJING (Reuters) - More than 30 Chinese government officials have been ordered to relinquish their membership of a luxurious golf club in the wealthy eastern city of Wenzhou after a torrent of online criticism, state media reported on Friday.

The Wenzhou Golf Association (WGA) charges 398,000 yuan (37,600 pounds) for membership -- about 40 times the average annual income of farmers in Zhejiang province, where Wenzhou is located.

The WGA was launched Monday and included a number of local officials, such as a vice mayor as honorary chairman and a deputy secretary-general of the city government as the chairman, according to the Chinanews service.

Reports about the WGA provoked a backlash on the internet and the vice governor of Zhejiang province and Wenzhou’s Communist Party boss intervened to order the officials to quit.

“They are waving the government whips, grabbing the company cash, and taking the part-time posts,” one Internet commentator was quoted as saying in the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

China’s ruling Communist Party has repeatedly vowed to stamp out official corruption, a key source of public discontent as the booming economy gives senior officials many opportunities to use their power for private gain.

The paper said some officials claimed they had not been informed they were given membership, which would be equivalent to several years salary.

Golf is an elite sport in China. There are no public courses and the estimated 450 clubs charge huge membership fees -- $250,000 in the case of Beijing’s Pine Valley club.

The introduction of golf into the Olympic Games from 2016 provided the WGA with one line of defence against the criticism.

“The sport has become an Olympic event so it needs to be backed by the government to be promoted,” the general-secretary of the WGA said.

Reporting by Liu Zhen and Nick Mulvenney; Editing by John O’Brien