A candidate for village chief in Hunan province has been disqualified after his wife sent a virtual red packet worth 10 RMB (HK$11.4) to a group of villagers on social media WeChat, asking for their support.

Several committee candidates in other nearby villages have also been disqualified and censured for sending similar virtual gifts ranging from RMB 10 to RMB 40 in value, announced the central Chinese province’s anti-corruption watchdog on Wednesday.

WeChat virtual red packet Zhou Weixiong Hunan wife
Screenshot of virtual red packet sent by the candidate’s wife. Photo: Internet.

Chinese WeChat users often send virtual red packets containing small sums of money to groups. Group members who click on a RMB 10 red packet will receive a certain share of the total sum at random.

According to the Hunan Commission for Discipline Inspection, Huangtang village chief Zhou Weixiong was seeking to be re-elected when his wife sent the red packet to a group of 100 villagers, asking: “Everyone – please support him!”

Villagers replied thanking her for the red packet, and said that they would vote for Zhou.

But after the party committee of the local township uncovered the incident, he was disqualified.

See also: Just a game? The new culture of virtual red packets in WeChat

The commission also announced that a women’s committee candidate in a nearby area received a warning from the party after sending a WeChat red packet worth RMB 40 in April. A local party committee candidate was also disqualified for sending a RMB 10 packet in the same month.

WeChat red packets
WeChat red packets. Photo: HKFP Remix.

Altogether, 115 individuals were punished for “disciplinary violations” – a euphemism for corruption – during local elections in the areas governed under Zhuzhou city, said the commission.

In Hong Kong, the handing out of virtual red packets during election campaigns came under scrutiny last year after Hong Kong University Council student representative candidate Zhu Ke sent a packet to WeChat users, worth a total of RMB 80. The university decided not to punish Zhu, saying that the amount given was “immaterial” – but rival candidate Michael Mo has filed a legal challenge against the decision.

In Australia, University of Sydney union board candidate Wang Zhixian successfully appealed a decision to bar her from running earlier this year, after she sent a virtual red packet worth AUD 2 (HK$11.7).

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.