he head of the Forbidden City has offered both apology and explanation for last week’s mega-scandal that was set off by photos of a young woman posing with her luxury vehicle inside of the former imperial residence.
In a statement posted on Weibo on Tuesday, Wang Xudong, the Palace Museum’s director, explained that though the Forbidden City had been closed to the general public last Monday (January 13), it had hosted an approved event that was attended by more than 200 people.
According to Wang, after a designated parking lot for the event filled up, attendees were mistakenly directed to a “temporary” one opposite the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the second major gate that tourists see when arriving at the historic site.
Wang blamed this mistake on poor management, adding that the museum’s deputy director in charge of security had been suspended while an investigation is carried out. No private vehicles are typically allowed on the grounds of the Forbidden City, a prohibition that isn’t even lifted for visiting heads of state.
However, Wang was quick to reassure the public that turning one of the palace’s most significant courtyards into a parking lot had not done any damage to the site, explaining that the ground there had been renovated in modern times and that the area was occasionally used as a temporary driving passage.
While Palace Museum officials may have found themselves in hot water, it seems to be the SUV’s owner who is real trouble.
The woman posted her photos on Weibo on Friday with the caption, “Since it’s closed on Monday, we avoided the crowds and went to have fun in the Forbidden City.” She soon deleted this post but not before the images became the talk of Chinese social media.
In no time, she became the top target of China’s human flesh search engine with netizens identifying her as a woman named Gao Yu, the wife of a man whose grandfather was a Communist Party revolutionary and vice-chairman of the CPPCC and whose father is the former director of the State Tourism Administration.
In her Weibo profile, Gao described herself as an Air China flight attendant but the airline said she had left the company years ago. Amateur internet sleuths wondered where she got the money to buy a Mercedes Benz G-Class SUV — priced at 2.4 million yuan ($350,000) in China — and the other luxury possessions she flaunted on social media like designer Swiss watches and a four-bedroom property in Newport Beach that was last sold for nearly $12 million.
Gao has likewise deleted her Instagram account, though that seems unlikely to stop Communist Party inspectors from probing her finances.