- Photos of two women who were allowed to drive a luxury SUV into the Imperial Palace complex triggers social media storm about preferential treatment for those with the right connections
- Vehicles are banned from the 600-year-old World Heritage Site but one of the women posted on Weibo that she had been allowed in on Monday, when the site is shut to ordinary members of the public
Viral photos showing two women who were allowed to drive a luxury SUV into Beijing's Forbidden City have triggered a national furore.
Vehicles have been banned from the complex since 2013 and the incident has raised questions about why the women, one of whom claimed to be related to senior officials, were permitted to bring the vehicle into the site, parts of which were once reserved for emperors and their family.
Others expressed concern that flouting the car ban risked damaging the 600-year-old World Heritage Site, which dates back to the Ming dynasty.
It also reinforced a widespread public perception that certain people are treated like royalty and granted privileges denied to ordinary Chinese people because of their family connections.
The pictures, showing the pair standing besides a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, were posted on the microblogging site Weibo on Friday under the name "LuxiaobaoLL", with the caption: "As it is closed on Monday, (we) avoided tourists and enjoyed the palace."
The post was widely circulated, attracting tens of thousands of comments.
On Friday evening, the Palace Museum, which now runs the complex, posted a statement on Weibo admitting that a vehicle had been allowed to enter the Forbidden City on Monday.
"We feel deeply distressed and sincerely apologise to the public," the post read. "We will … stop it from happening again."
"After this case, Chinese people will question whether the Palace Museum closes every Monday to serve the privileged class," said one Weibo user.
Some others made a comparison with the visit of former French president Francois Hollande in 2013, observing that he had been forced to leave his car outside and walk into the palace.
Some outraged web users started digging into LuxiaobaoLL's online history and found that she had previously claimed to have married into the family of former senior official. Her claim could not be independently verified.
According to a Weibo post on April 6, 2017, LuxiaobaoLL claimed that revolutionary hero He Changgong was her grandfather-in-law.
He joined the Chinese Communist Party in 1922, just one year after the party was established, and played an important role in the party's development and early years.
He's family and the government have not commented on her claims.
The woman's Weibo biography also said she was a flight attendant at Air China, but the company told China News Agency on Friday that she left in 2018.
Five times Beijing's Forbidden City became a trending topic online
The public furore also prompted elements of state media to weigh in on the case.
Xiake Dao, a Weibo account affiliated with the overseas edition of People's Daily, wrote on Friday that such behaviour is "obviously ignoring the rules of cultural relic protection and arbitrary".
"The woman, who dares to violate the rules and shows it publicly, relies on the ignorance and the fearlessness of privilege," it said.
Banyuetan, a magazine affiliated to state news agency Xinhua, said the Palace Museum needed to find out who opened the gates for the pair and check whether their SUV had caused any damage to the site.
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