I’ve just switched on to the Chinese media after being told a story about a Chinese tycoon named as Mr Fan who apparently had five mistresses. The story goes that after he ran into financial difficulties he found he could no longer afford to keep his mistresses and ran a competition to decide which one he would keep.

At a hotel in the city of Qingdao he invited a judge to help him choose his ultimate mistress based on her beauty, singing and finally on her ability to drink, unbeknownst to his mistresses. The mistresses were provided with flats paid for by the tycoon and when one of the mistresses, named Miss Fu, learnt that her services were no longer required and that Mr Fan would no longer pay for her flat she decided to exact revenge by driving them all over a steep cliff. She died but the four other mistresses and the tycoon survived. The story broke in the Shanghai Daily, so the story goes, because Fu left a letter detailing the competition. Mr Fan then paid £500,000 to her family.

The story was narrated to me after I told a friend about a programme I had seen last night on BBC 4 about the Chateau Margaux vineyard (watch The Faith here) which produces some of the world’s finest wine. Making forays into China the vineyard have taken their vintage wines to China on a marketing exercise designed to stamp their mark as the best of the best, and they were met with open arms. The following are the evangelistic words of the Chateau…

beauty certainty refinement leisure elegance softness depth… Margaux has a kind of wisdom I think… not to show off its power but to hide it behind its charm and elegance …its not just fermented juice … wine is so complex, so interesting, we want to understand it more … we can be philosophical … wine is so close to ourself, its life-span, its life expectancy is more than ours

Here in a nutshell the imperialism that lies behind the brand but one which sounds so sexy and seductive.

At a function to raise money for the victims of the 2008 earthquake the Chateau Margaux sold a magnum of wine for a mere £56,000. That’s eight bottles of wine to you and me. The people in attendance were the Chinese bourgeoisie. In China the filming concentrated on bourgeois women who have long since abandoned Chairman Mao outfits, in fact you would be hard pressed to distinguish them from our own greedy and decadent elites. And the 12 approved hairstyles for women of the cultural revolution were nowhere to be seen. They imbibed wines from Margaux’ vineyards to the point that they were now giggling and flirting with the very sober French architect and present manager of the Margaux brand.

This little vignette, narrated to me by my purveyor of fine stories, intrigued me so much I decided to go online and research it. What I discovered was that Agence France Presse had sold this story onto the international press and the same story was running almost word for word in the global press. The New York Daily News reported it as did Time magazine. It seems Mr Fan had been inspired by talent competitions he had seen on TV. The uniform reporting of this strange story made me more curious.

Here is the story in the Singaporean Straits Times. I tried to find the original source and eventually found a cached version in the Shanghai Daily filed by a Li Xinran from where AFP had lifted the story. Further digging led me to ZonaEuropa, a conservative Chinese blog written in English, that debunked the story as false. It was claimed that original story had come from the Peninsula Metropolitan News, one of the world’s fastest growing newspapers.

The Peninsular Metropolis Daily later sacked a journalist by the name of Yi Lie for “plagiarizing” the story. This is a different claim from the Chinese Zone Europa who are adamant the story is false. Belabouring the point, some journalist gets sacked but we still don’t know whether the story is true or not.

THE loser of a bizarre talent contest drove her former lover and the man’s four other mistresses off a cliff in eastern China’s Shandong Province in an apparent fit of anger, killing herself and injuring the others.

The survivors told police the crash was an accident, but a letter left by the dead woman revealed the details of an unusual competition gone awry. According to the document, the businessman was going to lay off four of his five mistresses due to financial trouble. The women were allowed to vie for the remaining position by competing on their looks, their singing and speaking and their ability to drink alcohol, the Qingdao-based Peninsula Metropolis Daily newspaper reported yesterday.

The case dates back to December 6, when police in Qingdao received a report that a car had crashed through the guardrail of a mountain highway and plummeted into a deep valley. The female driver died at the scene while five others, including a man, were sent to a hospital.

Police thought at first it was simply a traffic accident involving friends on a leisure trip. But the parents of the dead woman, identified as a 29-year-old surnamed Yu, told police that a man surnamed Fan was to blame.

Yu left behind a letter that claimed she and the four other women were Fan’s mistresses. Fan met Yu in 2000 in a Qingdao restaurant where she worked as a waitress, the report said. The Shanxi native reportedly became Fan’s mistress shortly thereafter and lived with him in a two-room apartment bought by the man.

Fan, a married entrepreneur, also kept other four mistresses – two of whom were his employees and two his former clients, the report said.

Fan introduced the five to each other, but none chose to break up with him, as each reportedly received 5,000 yuan (US$733) a month plus a rent-free apartment.

But business began to go bad, and Fan decided to lay off all but one mistress to save money, according to the newspaper report. To select the best one, he reportedly staged a talent show in a hotel last May, even inviting an instructor from a local modeling agency to be a judge, although Fan did not reveal his true purpose.

Yu was knocked out in the first round based on her looks, and a Ms Liu eventually took the crown after she won the drinking contest.

When Fan told Yu she had lost her position and he was selling her apartment, she decided to take revenge, the newspaper said.

The crash happened after Yu invited Fan and the other four women to tour Laoshan Mountain, a scenic site in Qingdao, before she returned to her home province.

Fan shut down his company after the crash, and his wife demanded a divorce after learning about his affairs. Fan later paid 580,000 yuan to Yu’s parents as compensation for her death. And the other four mistresses went off on their own.

What this demonstrates clearly is the sorry state that our media is in when a story can get sucked up by a global news agency like AFP and then be distributed to media around the world with no journalist thinking to fact check the story and not think twice about attaching their bylines.

What seems to have got Zona Europa’s ire up is the negative way in which the Chinese are being perceived because of this story. As if scandal were something distinctly foreign. On the same page that this story of the non-existent Mr Fan was carried I read about a 32 year old woman who allegedly bedded a couple of handfuls of China’s ruling class and businessmen. She’s been very busy and bedded the following men –

(1) the director of the Shanghai Nuclear Power Company; (2) the chairman of a Shanghai investment company; (3) the former director of the Shanghai Social Security Administration; (4) Qin Yu, the former Shanghai City Government Office deputy secretary-general and later Baoshan district mayor; (5) the Shanghai City Party deputy secretary-general; (6) the Shanghai Electricity Company chairman; (7) the State Statistics Bureau director.

55% of Chinese men questioned in a survey said they would bed her if they were a Chinese official.

Question: If you were a government official, would you break the law for the sake of Lu Jiali?
55%: Yes
30%: No
15%: Don’t know

A reader said “When I saw the results, I am speechless — are there any good men left in the world?” I have to say that I am left speechless by the 15% who are undecided!

Miss Liu Jiali is now in hiding in an undisclosed country due to having become embroiled in a scandal over social security in China.