Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

Swiss watches and the ‘c-word’

He is a Chinese blogger with a conscience and a fascination for Swiss luxury watches. He calls himself Huaguoshan Zongshuji which means Secretary General of the Mountains of Flowers and Fruit, a title taken from the famous 16th century Chinese folkloric novel Journey to the West.

Single-handedly, he has tainted the prestigious Swiss watch with the ‘c-word’: corruption. With a simple search, zoom, paste and caption, he has put fear into the wearers of luxury watches.

Once a relatively discreet sign of prestige and success, watches are coming off the wrist and going back into their boxes and into the sock drawer and safe, far from prying internet activists known as ‘watch spotters’.  

The 35-year-old Huaguoshan Zongshuji has published photographs of about 100 officials and their watches since 2011. His revelations have resulted in a number of corruption prosecutions and forced the authorities to crack down on ‘incentive gifts’.

Sales of Swiss-made luxury timepieces to China fell by 25% in the first three months of 2013.

His biggest target was China's new railways minister, Sheng Guangzu. A simple search of photographs of the minister on Google images revealed his impressive collection of Rolex, Piaget and Omega watches. Mr Sheng, a former head of customs in China, was appointed in February this year after the previous railways minister Liu Zhijun, was arrested and investigated for corruption and received a death sentence with reprieve.

Also on his website list was a vice-minister of health spotted with a Rolex worth about CHF 13,000 and the vice-principal of State Administration Academy in Beijing, which trains civil servants, wearing what looked very mich like a Piaget, worth more than CHF 14,500.

The renowned Swiss timepieces tell a lot more than the time when worn on the wrist of a party official who earns just 6000 Yuan (CHF 920) per month.

Not surprisingly, the Secretary General of the Mountains of Flowers and Fruit has been detained and questioned by police and his website censored. He told the UK Daily Telegraph that access to his web files had been blocked. He said they were not deleted, but just blocked from public view. "I myself can still see them, but others cannot," he said.

A typical photo and caption used to look like this:

Mr. Tong Xing, vice governor of Guangdong Province. Santos De Cartier. Looks like W20098D6. Priced at 43,000 yuan.

Ironically, the censorship came just weeks after former safety chief Yang Dacai was sentenced to 14 years in prison for taking bribes and “owning a large amount of assets of unknown origin”.

The Swiss luxury watch proved to be his Achilles' heel.

The case was dubbed ‘grinning watch brother’. The rotund provincial official later identified as Yang Dacai was photographed smiling inappropriately while inspecting the scene of a crash between a bus and a methanol tanker late last year which claimed the lives of 36 people. The photograph of the insensitive official caused outrage and went viral. On-line activists trawled the web and published photographs of Yang wearing an array of Rolex, Omega, Vacheron Constantin, and Rado watches.

It is not just the Chinese that are having trouble with the overt opulence of wearing a Swiss luxury watch.

In April 2012 the Russian Orthodox Church doctored a photo of its leader Patriarch Kirill I on its website. In the first photograph  (see below) he is wearing a Breguet timepiece worth about CHF 27,000. In the second photo there is no watch. Well, the watch has gone (photoshopped away) but its reflection on the glossy table remains, as plain as day.


tainted - to taint is to damage or spoil the quality of something or the opinion that people have of somebody/something

prying - to pry is to find out information about other people's private lives in a way that is annoying or rude

watch spotters’ - a spotter is someone who looks for something that is not easy to see

crack down - severe action taken to restrict the activities of criminals or of people opposed to the government or somebody in authority

incentive gifts’ – a polite expression for expensive gifts that one could not normally afford

death sentence with reprieve – death sentence reduced to life imprisonment

renowned – celebrated, famous

trawled - to trawl is to search through a large amount of information

overt opulence - a public show of wealth

to doctor - to change or falsify something to trick someone

as plain as day - idiomatic expression : clear, obvious, easy to see

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