Charles Xue Nabbed in Beijing in Official Squeeze on Bloggers

Chinese American billionaire tech investor and celebrity blogger Charles Xue was arrested Friday in Beijing on charges of visiting a prostitute. He is one of several online social critics arrested in China during the past week.

Xue, a naturalized US citizen born to a former deputy mayor of Beijing, has 12 million weibo followers under the blogging name Xue Manzi. Due to his status as a billionaire who has successfully invested in hundreds of internet ventures, his following is based on investments tips as well as social commentary on issues like air pollution and human rights which are implicitly critical of government policies.

His arrest was given prominent play in China’s state-run media Sunday. The Beijing police microblog announced that a 60-year-old man surnamed Xue had been detained Friday in a Beijing neighborhood and confessed to visiting a prostitute. Arrested with him was a 22-year-old woman who confessed to prostitution.

On Monday People’s Daily used the occasion to warn China’s “Big Vs” — celebrity bloggers with verified profiles — to “be careful what information they convey and use their right to expression responsibly.”

Even the state-run Global Times suggested the obvious — that Xue’s arrest may have been an effort to punish him for his online commentary.

“Cannot rule out the possibility that authorities are arresting Xue Manzi with a prostitute to give him a hard time,” said a commentator named Hu Xijin in Sunday’s edition. That post was later removed.

On the same day as Xue’s arrest, investigative journalist Liu Hu of Guangzhou-based New Express was arrested on charges of fabricating and spreading false rumors about a senior government official he had described as being negligent in the discharge of his public duties.

Also arrested on suspicion of extortion around the same time was a blogger dubbed “watch brother” for his campaign calling attention to an official who wore expensive watches that couldn’t have been afforded on his official salary.

These arrests are part of official efforts to rein in bloggers who have gained a great deal of influence over China’s netizens, opined investigative blogger Zhu Ruifeng who created one of the biggest scandals of the past year by releasing a video of an official having sex with a young woman helping a property developer extort officials for favorable treatment.

Charles Xue Biqun studied foreign relations at UC Berkeley. Since becoming a successful tech investor he has helped fund various public-interest projects in China. In 2011 he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He is currently in detention but will likely be released shortly to minimize an outpouring of public outrage which would tend to offset any advantage authorities hope to derive from publicizing Xue’s arrest.