A woman walks past two Chinese paramilitary police standing guard at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on March 4, 2014
Wang Zhao—AFP/Getty Images
June 16, 2014 3:06 AM EDT

In the world of Chinese officialdom, it isn’t only the men who loot government coffers for the promise of sex. A splurge on 251 designer handbags and $665,000 racked up on beauty-salon treatments and costly face-lifts? That was the work of corrupt female officials, according to a report in the Beijing News documenting 12 Chinese women investigated for graft in the first half of this year. The alleged dirty dozen includes a former inspector of the Sichuan Red Cross and the vice mayors of the cities of Yichang and Nantong.

The Beijing News included photos of the women under investigation, eliciting a predictable — if dispiriting — stream of online commentary on their looks. “An appearance like that and you can still use your looks to get power?” went one typical online post. Of course, if Chinese male cadres were judged on similar physical standards, they might fare even more poorly. But in a country where wanted ads for female secretaries can specify the age (“only mid-20s”) and beauty (“goose-egg-shaped face”) of any applicants, the judgments were hardly unusual.

Chairman Mao famously opined that women hold up half the sky, but socialist equality is hard to find in government hierarchies. Not a single woman has made it to the Politburo’s Standing Committee, which rules China. The 25-member Politburo itself only boasts a couple of women. Despite the fact that Chinese women are ever more educated, communist-era quotas on female political participation aren’t enforced. Notorious Chinese women — such as Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife who helped orchestrate the Cultural Revolution, and Gu Kailai, the murderous wife of disgraced politician Bo Xilai — are sometimes portrayed as the downfalls of their powerful husbands. Their precursor in stereotype is the Empress Dowager Cixi, whose reign over the waning Qing dynasty has been reduced in some Chinese lore to the perils of leaving an empire in a woman’s hands.

In terms of their ability to break public trust, however, modern-day Chinese women may be growing as industrious as their male colleagues. The Beijing News referred to testimony from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate that found a 33% increase in job-related crimes by female government workers, when comparing 2013 with 2009. In his report, Yang Jing, from the Supreme People’s Procuratorate’s job-related crime-prevention office, wrote:

Yang’s analysis ended with a Mars-Venus take on official chicanery:

— With reporting by Chengcheng Jiang / Beijing

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