Xi Jinping became the leader of China in 2013. Soon after securing his leadership Xi mounted a far-reaching anticorruption campaign that lead to the arrest, imprisonment and even death of a number of high-ranking officials by 2014. But at the same time Xi launched this campaign a number of anticorruption activists were also tried by the government on charges of disturbing the public order. [Source: Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., Columbia University Press]

After becoming president, Xi Jinping pledged to root out high-ranking "tigers" as well as low-level "flies". Over the course of his first two years in office there were thousands of arrests. According to AFP: “But analysts say there have been no systematic changes that could root out corruption fundamentally, and the purges are driven by internal politics within the factionalised ruling party.”

More than a million Communist Party members were punished for corruption, according to party corruption watchdog, the Central Committee for Discipline Inspection, including a number of very high-level retired and serving party members like top general Guo Boxiong and former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang. The Communist Party has 88 million members. [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, October 24, 2016]

Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote: “ Over fifty provincial-ministerial level officials were implicated. In 2014, Xi announced a raft of legal reforms to improve the system which was being increasingly perceived as corrupt and ineffective. Among other things, the reforms called for a greater role of the constitution on the affairs of state and more transparency in legal proceedings. [Source: Elizabeth Economy, Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia Unbound blog, Forbes, October 15, 2014]

Carrying Out Xi Jinping's Anti-Corruption Campaign

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “Wang Qishan, a friend for decades, who was placed in charge of the Central Commission on Discipline and Inspection, the agency that launched the vast anticorruption campaign. The Party had long cultivated an image of virtuous unanimity. But, during the next two years, Wang’s investigators, who were granted broad powers to detain and interrogate, attacked agencies that might counter Xi’s authority, accusing them of conspiracies and abuses. They brought corruption charges against officials at the state-planning and state-assets commissions, which protect the privileges of large government-run monopolies. They arrested China’s security chief, Zhou Yongkang, a former oil baron with the jowls of an Easter Island statue, who had built the police and military into a personal kingdom that received more funding each year for domestic spying and policing than it did for foreign defense. They reached into the ranks of the military, where flamboyant corruption was not only upsetting the public—pedestrians had learned to watch out for luxury sedans with military license plates, which careered around Beijing with impunity—but also undermining China’s national defense. When police searched homes belonging to the family of Lieutenant General Gu Junshan, a senior logistics chief, they removed four truckloads of wine, art, cash, and other luxuries. According to a diplomat in Beijing, Gu’s furnishings included a gold replica of China’s first aircraft carrier. “When questioned about it, he said it was a sign of patriotism,” the diplomat said. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015 ^^^]

“By the end of 2014, the Party had announced the punishment of more than a hundred thousand officials on corruption charges. Many foreign observers asked if Xi’s crusade was truly intended to stamp out corruption or if it was a tool to attack his enemies. It was not simply one or the other: corruption had become so threatening to the Party’s legitimacy that only the most isolated leader could have avoided forcing it back to a more manageable level, but railing against corruption was also a proven instrument for political consolidation, and at the highest levels Xi has deployed it largely against his opponents. Geremie Barme, the historian who heads the Australian Centre on China in the World, analyzed the forty-eight most high-profile arrests, and discovered that none of them were second-generation reds. “I don’t call it an anticorruption campaign,” a Western diplomat told me. “This is grinding trench warfare.” ^^^

“A longtime editor in Beijing, When I asked him how President Xi was doing, he mentioned the banquet at the Empty Cicada. He thought it pointed to a problem that is much deeper than a few high-living bureaucrats. “The central government issued an order absolutely forbidding them to dine out on public funds. And they did it anyway!” he said. “What this tells you is that local officials are finding their ways of responding to change. There is a saying: ‘When a rule is imposed up high, there is a way to get around it below.’ ” The struggle between an emperor and his bureaucracy follows a classic pattern in Chinese politics, and it rarely ends well for the emperor. But the editor was betting on Xi. “He’s not afraid of Heaven or Earth. And he is, as we say, round on the outside and square on the inside; he looks flexible, but inside he is very hard.” ^^^

China scholar Willy Wo-Lap Lam told the New York Times: He deserves credit for masterminding and implementing the most thorough and efficient anticorruption campaign in decades. If you just look at mid- to senior-rank officials, the number arrested is more than those incarcerated by Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao put together. However, if you look at the top-level officials, like Politburo-level cadres, and especially the princelings, it’s not impressive. He’s following Mao Zedong’s playbook of using anticorruption as a weapon against his enemies in the party. These sorts of vigorous campaigns contrast with his low-key reputation in the provinces. He spent 15 years in Fujian, rising to the level of governor, before leaving in 2002. Those 15 years were quite mediocre. He did nothing remarkably reformist or noteworthy. Xi’s track record in Zhejiang from 2002 to 2007 was better. But if you compare him to high-profile cadres such as Wang Yang, who was party secretary of Guangdong, he was cautious to a fault. Xi was anxious not to appear to be excessively reformist. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, June 2, 2015]

Striking Tigers and Swatting Flies: Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption

In January 2013, year, Xi Jinping pledged to deal aggressively with corruption. He said the Chinese Communist Party would “strike tigers as well as flies,” meaning it would pursue corruption cases involving high-ranking officials as well as small-time crooks. It was a theme that Mr. Xi came back to when he told central officials that he would take on both “flies” and “tigers” — wayward local officials and corrupt senior leaders — and would demand unflinching obedience to central directives. “If we don’t redress unhealthy tendencies and allow them to develop, it will be like putting up a wall between our party and the people, and we will lose our roots, our lifeblood and our strength,” Mr. Xi said. His catchphrase for self-restraint—“Four dishes and a soup”—was aimed at those who indulged in expensive banquets.

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “ Life for the almighty Chinese government official has come to this: car pools, domestically made wristwatches and self-serve lunch buffets...Since he was anointed China’s paramount leader and tastemaker-in-chief, President Xi Jinping has imposed a form of austerity on the nation’s famously free-spending civil servants, military brass and provincial party bosses. Warning that graft and gluttony threaten to bring down the ruling Communists, Mr. Xi has ordered an end to boozy, taxpayer-financed banquets and the bribery that often takes the form of a gift-wrapped Louis Vuitton bag. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, March 27, 2013 |^|]

“While the power of the nation’s elite remains unchallenged, the symbols of that power are slipping from view. Gone, for now, are the freshly cut flowers and red-carpet ceremonies that used to greet visiting dignitaries. This month, military officers who arrived here for the annual National People’s Congress were instructed to share hotel rooms and bring their own toiletries. “Car-pooling feels so good because it provides a way to bond and chat with each other while saving money and increasing efficiency,” one senior military official told the People’s Liberation Army newspaper. Not everyone has been so embracing of the change. In late March 2013, the country’s top disciplinary body dismissed six functionaries, including a neighborhood party chief who spent $63,000 to entertain 80 colleagues at a seaside resort, and a county official who marked the opening of new administrative offices by throwing a feast for 290 people. |^|

“The crackdown appears to be real, as far as it goes, which may not be very far. After a year of scandal that led to the toppling of a member of the Politburo, Bo Xilai, and numerous reports of widespread official corruption, Mr. Xi’s highly public campaign seems aimed at curtailing the most conspicuous displays of wealth by people in power. He has done little to tackle the concentrations of money and power in China’s state-directed economy that have allowed numerous members of the Chinese elite and their extended families to amass extravagant fortunes. Some analysts note that even a modest first step toward reducing corruption, a proposed regulation that would require top officials to disclose their personal assets publicly, appears to be stalled, highlighting the elite’s resistance to real change. |^|

“Wu Qiang, a political science professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, expressed cynicism about the moderation campaign, saying it distracted attention from the kinds of political reform necessary to make government more accountable and transparent. “More than just restricting people’s eating habits, we need to restrain the party’s power, otherwise this is just political farce,” he said. Even so, Mr. Xi has garnered attention and some praise for his eight-point guide for official conduct, which he issued in January. Mr. Xi warned that his administration would swat both “tigers and flies” in the anticorruption drive, which he said was vital for winning back public trust. Not surprisingly, the campaign is winning high marks from a citizenry long disgusted by the outlandish spending and other acts of arrogance. “It awakens the faith of the masses,” said Wang Yukai, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance. |^|

Adam Rose of Reuters wrote: “Spearheading his crackdown is Wang Qishan, head of the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI). Wang warned party investigators last month that their jobs were on the line if they failed to root out corruption, telling them to use "shock and awe" on their targets. The party said this month it plans to set up a database to record information on the income and property of party officials. It has said nothing about making the income database public. The central discipline commission, however, did hold its first news conference ever in January and launched a website in September that allows the public to report alleged misbehaviour. Some analysts expect further reforms to the commission could be in the works, which might affect its approach to fighting corruption. "I think they genuinely want to fight corruption," said Zhu Jiangnan at the University of Hong Kong, who researches corruption in China. "There's certainly been an increase in transparency." [Source: Adam Rose, Reuters, November 23, 2013]

Xi Jinping's Maoist Anti-Corruption Rectification Campaign

Wang Qishan, the man in charge of the anti-corruption campaign

Willy Lam wrote in China Brief: “President Xi Jinping has given the clearest indication to date of his political orientation and policy preferences by launching a Maoist-style rectification campaign to “thoroughly clean up the work style” of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 85 million members. In the coming year, officials in civilian and military departments who fail to rid themselves of the undesirable traits of “formalism, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance” will be penalized or even removed from the party. The year-long rectification (zhengfeng) exercise, formally called a “Campaign on Mass Line Education and Practice” is the largest-scale purge launched by the CCP leadership since the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Additionally, a companion “thought education” movement “to boost grassroots-level cultural construction in the military forces” is being launched within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police. Regulations promulgated by the four PLA general departments last month urged officers to “nurture the core values of the contemporary revolutionary soldier” by “doing a better job in educating, nurturing and molding [the character of military personnel].” [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief, Jamestown Foundation vol. 13, no. 14, July 12, 2013 -]

“In language that is reminiscent of the Great Helmsman’s masterly blend of the vernacular and the metaphysical, Xi urged cadres and party members to “purify themselves, and [work on] self-perfection, self-reformation and self-elevation.” “We must closely rely on the people and fully mobilize the enthusiasm, initiative and creativity of the broad masses,” he said in the nationally-televised speech on June 18 that formally opened the zhengfeng crusade. “We must look in the mirror, tidy our attire, take a bath and cure our sickness,” added Xi, who is also CCP General Secretary and Chairman of the policy-setting Central Military Commission (CMC). In a commentary on the zhengfeng crusade, Xinhua pointed out that the Mao-style purge would serve the purpose of “bolstering the cohesiveness of the hearts of the party and people and consolidating the blood-and-flesh ties between the party and the people”. -

“Given that the campaign will run for at least 12 months, it is premature to assess whether it will live up to the billing of winnowing out bad sheep who are responsible for the alarming deterioration of cadres’ morality and competence. It is significant, however, that, in the footsteps of the Great Helmsman, Xi is resorting to Cultural Revolution-era ideological and propaganda campaigns to change of mindset of cadres rather than establishing institutions such as universal-style checks and balances. As legal expert Guo Wenjing pointed out in a commentary in the official Legal Daily, “critical to the success [of zhengfeng] is establishing solid institutions.” Guo cited late patriarch Deng Xiaoping’s famous dictum about “the decisive role of institutions,” namely, that “bad people cannot do evil within a good system, whereas it is possible for good people to do bad things within an evil system.” Similarly, U.S.-based dissident scholar He Qinglian, who specializes in party history and institutions, faulted Xi for “going after pleasing appearances rather than doing solid work.” “The rectification exercise is itself a manifestation of formalism and bureaucracy,” she said, “what the CCP needs is reform of political systems”. -

In his speeches relating to the zhengfeng movement, Xi surprisingly has shied away from concrete measures to eradicate corruption, which former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao deemed “a matter of life and death for the party”. Shortly upon becoming general secretary last November, Xi waxed eloquent about cracking down on “tigers as well as flies” among venal cadres. He, however, made only one reference to tackling graft in his June 18 address: “We must deeply implant in the thoughts and actions of all comrades of the party the value of serving the people, sticking to reality and being non-corrupt.” Neither Xi nor other members of the Politburo have said anything about the status of a number of solid anti-graft measures proposed by liberal cadres as well as public intellectuals. One is a so-called “sunshine regulation” that will oblige mid- to senior-ranked officials to disclose their assets as well as those of their spouses and children. While the assets disclosure regulation was a hot topic during the National People’s Congress (NPC) last March, it has disappeared from public discourse, apparently due to entrenched opposition from power blocs in the party. -

“Xi’s failure to address the corruption scourge properly has drawn at least indirect flak even from academics within the party establishment. For example, Yao Huan, a politics professor at the Beijing Municipal Party School pointed out in an interview with People’s Daily that “without clean governance, adopting the mass line becomes an empty phrase”. More than six months after he became party chief, Xi has little to show on the clean government front. The two most senior officials nabbed for alleged economic crimes are the Vice Minister at the National Development and Reform Commission Liu Tienan and the former Vice Governor of Sichuan Province Guo Yongxiang. Moreover, Xi seems to have difficulty wrapping up the case of former Politburo member and Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai. First detained by authorities in March last year, Bo is alleged to have pocketed at least a few tens of millions of yuan in addition to laundering money overseas. -

Xi Jinping's Maoist Anti-Corruption a Measure of “Red DNA”?

Zhou Yongkang, high-profile victim of Xi's anti-corruption campaign

Willy Lam wrote in China Brief: “If the zhengfeng movement has little to do with urgent tasks such as combating corruption, is it a foil for an old-style intra-party power struggle that is aimed at boosting the authority of Xi, the putative “core” of the Fifth-Generation leadership? Zhang Lifan, a well-known party historian, pointed out that “political campaigns waged in the name of the mass line are often symptomatic of factional strife within the party.” “It is possible that an internal power struggle is shaping up,” he said. Deng Yuwen, a respected media commentator who used to be a senior editor at the Central Party School, also thinks Xi might be using the rectification exercise to rid himself of political foes at both the central and local levels. Deng suggests “The zhengfeng crusade may become a loyalty drive which will enable Xi to establish his authority and flush out ideological opponents”. [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief, Jamestown Foundation vol. 13, no. 14, July 12, 2013 -]

“A remarkable article in the PLA Daily last month seemed to lend credence to Zhang and Deng’s views. In a piece entitled “Self-consciously Uphold the Authority of Chairman Xi Jinping,” the commander and political commissar of the Second Artillery Corps, respectively, Wei Fenghe and Zhang Haiyang, called upon officers and the rank and file to “heed at any time and under any circumstances the instructions of the party central authorities, the CMC and Chairman Xi.” The two generals saluted the contributions made by Chairman Mao in “formulating and constructing the objectives for modernizing [China’s] revolutionary army.” They went on to note that in order to “ensure the army’s superior nature, goals and essence,” military personnel must “meet the challenges of reality and the needs of inheriting Œred genes’”. -

“It was the first time that senior cadres in either civilian or military sectors had underscored the imperative of nurturing and developing the party’s “red DNA.” Given the commonly held beliefs among conservative sectors in the party and army that “red genes” are found in most abundance among cadres with “revolutionary bloodline”, a reference to princelings or the kin of party elders — the likes of Generals Wei and Zhang are in effect waging a loyalist campaign to enhance the status of Xi, who is the son of the late Vice Premier Xi Zhongxun, as unquestioned supremo of the party, state and military apparatus. Moreover, a number of close Xi associates at the uppermost echelons of the party and army, including Politburo Standing Committee members Yu Zhengsheng and Wang Qishan as well as the General Zhang himself are the sons of illustrious party elders. -

“The apparent veneration of “red genes” also has manifested itself in the decision by a number of princelings in their twenties and forties to forego relatively lucrative business careers for the world of politics. This is despite an internal instruction given by late patriarch Deng in the 1980s that the offspring of party elders should seek to distinguish themselves in the commercial rather than the political arena. Foremost among these cadres with revolutionary bloodline is Deng Xiaoping’s grandson Deng Zhuodi, aged 28, who became Deputy Head of Pingguo County, Guangxi Province, earlier this year. Other examples have included the 41-year-old son of ex-President Hu Jintao, Hu Haifeng, who was named Deputy Party Secretary of the city of Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province last May; and the 36-year-old son of former NPC chairman Wu Bangguo, Wu Lei, who was recently appointed Deputy Director of Shanghai’s Economic and Information Technology Commission. -

“Irrespective of the extent to which President Xi is committed to blowing the trumpet for cadres with “red genes,” his adoption of Maoist values has been criticized by the CCP’s remnant liberal wing, which includes party elders as well as their offspring. Beijing’s political circles have the past few weeks been abuzz with the publication of the candid views of a number of liberal retired cadres during a Chinese New Year intellectual salon organized by the respected monthly Yanhuang Chunqiu. The second son of late party general secretary Hu Yaobang, Hu Dehua, laid into Xi’s embrace of ultra-conservative ideas, especially his apparent refusal to push forward universal-style political reform. Hu Dehua noted, instead of harboring nostalgia for the Cultural Revolution, Xi should emulate the Taiwan’s late President Chiang Ching-kuo, who instituted political reforms in 1986. Zhong Peizhang, a former senior cadre at the party’s Propaganda Department, urged Xi to take immediate steps to “reform the lawless party and state systems laid down by Mao Zedong”. While Xi has impressed observers in and out of China with the speed with which he has consolidated his power base, the 60-year-old princeling has to convince his countrymen that he is committed to overhauling old-dated institutions which underpin party members’ fast-worsening “work style.” -

Extensiveness of Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Drive

Xu Caihou, another high-profile victim of Xi's anti-corruption campaign

In April 2014, Benjamin Kang Lim and Megha Rajagopalan of Reuters wrote: “Since he took over the party in November 2012 and then became the country's president in March 2013, Xi has often warned that corruption threatens the party's survival. Many party, government and military officials have since been living in fear, the sources close to the leadership said. About 10 officials who held a rank equivalent to at least vice minister are under investigation as part of the Zhou probe alone, sources have previously said. Among them are former top officials at state energy giant PetroChina and its parent China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) who were linked to Zhou when he worked in the oil industry. [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Megha Rajagopalan, Reuters, April 16, 2014]

“Underscoring the challenge, more than 30 percent of party, government and military officials were found to be involved in some form of corruption, according to a previously unpublished internal party survey carried out in 2013, said one of the sources. While he is walking a political tightrope, the sources said Xi was not meeting much resistance, for now, to the crackdown from party elders or others who might fear they could be next. But there is a limit to how many people he can purge. "The government would be paralyzed if Xi went after all the corrupt officials," said a source who has regular access to Xi.

“The anti-corruption campaign has also spilled over into the 2.3 million-strong PLA. Sources said in March 2014 that General Xu Caihou, 70, who retired as vice chairman of the Central Military Commission last year and from the Politburo in 2012, was under virtual house arrest while helping in the probe of Lieutenant-General Gu Junshan. Gu, former PLA deputy logistics chief, has been charged with corruption, state media reported on March 31. This included accepting bribes to promote hundreds of officers, sources have said. Xu was one of Gu's main supporters in his rise through the ranks and hence is being implicated in ignoring, or at least failing to report, Gu's alleged misdeeds. Under Xi's orders, the military has clamped down on the doling out of PLA vehicle number plates, the illegal occupation of military housing and the selling of positions. But Xi is unlikely to punish all the officers who bought promotions, the sources said, adding he would use this as leverage to make them agree to more reforms.

“The biggest investigation Xi has ordered so far revolves around retired domestic security tsar Zhou Yongkang, who is under virtual house arrest” and was charged with corruption. Reuters reported on March 2014 “that more than 300 of Zhou's allies, proteges, staff and relatives had been taken into custody or questioned since late last year as part of China's biggest graft scandal in six decades. The government has yet to make any statement about Zhou, who retired in late 2012 from the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of power in China, or the case against him. It has also not been possible to contact Zhou, his family, associates or staff for comment. It is not clear if any of them have lawyers. "It shows that he can get to just about anybody if he can bring down a guy like (Zhou)," said David Zweig, a Chinese politics expert at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "It tells officials that if he's making reforms that they may not like so much, then they better get on board."

High-End Restaurants and Hotels Suffer in Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Campaign

Fancy Chinese restaurant

Andrew Jacobs wrote in the New York Times, “So far, most victims of the frugality drive have been purveyors of the good life: high-end caterers, abalone wholesalers, five-star hotels and makers of Yellow Pavilion cigarettes, the $300-a-carton brand coveted by up-and-coming bureaucrats. The ripple effects have reached all corners of the economy. First-class airline ticket sales have dropped by a tenth in recent months, and luxury goods dealers have reported a 20 percent to 30 percent decrease in sales. Moutai, the $600-a-bottle gut-searing grain alcohol that is an omnipresent intoxicant at official banquets, has also seen its growth slow recently. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, March 27, 2013 |^|]

“The China Cuisine Association said that 60 percent of restaurants surveyed last month had experienced a drop in reservations, with government-sponsored banquets down by nearly a third compared with the same period last year. Shen Danyang, a Ministry of Commerce spokesman who in normal times champions consumer spending, seemed to relish this particular slowdown. During a news conference last month, he noted that sales of shark fins had dropped more than 70 percent, and sales of edible swallow nests, the main ingredient of a $100-a-bowl delicacy, were down 40 percent. |^|

“To ensure compliance, government investigators have descended on restaurants to comb through receipts in search of large tabs suggesting abusive spending. “Even the big bosses are staying away from fancy restaurants and switching their expensive European wristwatches for Chinese brands until things calm down,” said one administrator from China’s southwestern Yunnan Province. Those who sell cigarettes and alcohol say the drop in business has been painful. “I don’t know how much longer I can survive,” said Li Liuyuan, the owner of a liquor store close to a number of government offices in Beijing, who is going to give over half his business space to a fruit salesman. |^|

“Restaurants like Xiang E Qing, a chain once popular with government employees, have been left to figure out a way to survive. At the headquarters for China’s armed police, where two branches of the restaurant face each another across a courtyard packed with government-issued Audis, business was down by a third, restaurant executives said. The drop in revenue prompted the company to mothball one of the two restaurants, cut prices on some dishes and start offering half-size dishes to show the company’s dedication to Mr. Xi’s moderation credo. |^|

“To drive home the point, LED screens at the entrances to the restaurant’s 35 private dining rooms admonish patrons to “Order according to your needs.” Waiters, whose salaries are partly based on commissions, have seen their salaries drop by a third, forcing many to quit. But many remaining employees say they support the new frugality. “I’d rather see our tax dollars being spent on the poor than paying for government banqueting,” Cui Fei, 24, said, standing in a nearly empty dining room one recent afternoon. |^|

“Those on the receiving end of socially obligated self-indulgence are also feeling some relief. One entrepreneur, who dines almost nightly with government officials and business associates and did not want to be identified as a result, said such invitations had dropped by half. “The nightly drinking takes a serious toll,” the entrepreneur said, expressing no regret at forgoing the mandated Maotai toasts. But old ways die hard. In its investigation into continued abuses, the state-run Xinhua news agency denounced “double-dealing officials who chant frugality slogans but secretly hold extravagant banquets.” Xinhua also discovered a new catchphrase popular among government officials: “Eat quietly, take gently and play secretly.” |^|

Minimal Results from Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Campaign?

Fancy seafood restaurant

Adam Rose of Reuters wrote: “Chinese President Xi Jinping has raised expectations he will tackle corruption much more forcefully than his predecessors, but official data on investigations suggests the crackdown so far is little different to previous years. Authorities have opened a similar number of corruption probes in 2013 to last year, data from the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP), which oversees criminal investigations and prosecutions nationwide, shows. [Source: Adam Rose, Reuters, November 23, 2013 ]

“According to a Reuters analysis of the data, authorities have prosecuted far fewer people this year compared to the past five years, while the number of senior officials being investigated is on track to match those in prior periods. Such statistics are at odds with the frequent trumpeting of Xi's anti-graft campaign by Chinese state media. Since he took over the ruling Communist Party a year ago, Xi has vowed to root out endemic corruption by catching "tigers", or senior officials, and not just lowly "flies".

“Xi might be treading carefully since putting too many officials behind bars could paralyse decision-making across the government and the party, experts said. "They don't want everybody worried about being arrested. That would be a disaster for the party," said Yuhua Wang, a China corruption expert at the University of Pennsylvania. A remarkably similar number of corruption investigations each year over the past decade suggests authorities might even have minimum targets to meet, some experts said. Xi could surprise, as he did earlier with far-reaching economic and social reforms announced at the end of a conclave of senior leaders, if his crackdown gathers steam in the coming year and prosecutions jump. For now, experts said authorities had yet to demonstrate the campaign was anything other than business as usual.

“In 2012, government authorities investigated 35,648 people for corruption, based on data in publicly available SPP work reports that covered the 2008-2012 period. As of the end of August, 30,938 investigations have been opened. That was up 4 percent compared to the same period last year, the SPP said in its official newspaper last month. And from 2011 to 2012, the number of investigations rose 6 percent, suggesting marginal growth in the number of probes is likely for all of 2013. "My hunch is that the year-end figures for 2013 will be pretty close to the totals for 2012," said Wedeman, who studies the SPP data. "Past experience suggests that part-year figures often overstate the actual annual increase."

“The central discipline commission and its regional branches also carry out corruption investigations, but only of party members. The commission has not released data on the total number of graft cases this year, which are dealt with internally. A fraction are handed over to prosecutors. Zhu said the commission was "extremely overloaded". "The CCDI's staff hasn't markedly increased ... They face the limits of manpower," she said. At the same time, the government had prosecuted half the number of officials investigated for corruption during the first eight months of the year. From 2008 to 2012, it was 90 percent, SPP data shows.

“The number of people investigated for corruption has remained remarkably consistent since 2003. Between 2003 and 2007, an average of 33,495 people were investigated by judicial authorities each year, based on the SPP's work reports. Between 2008 and 2012, the average was 33,569, a difference of less than 100. That hints at the use of targets for graft investigations in China, a country where anything from issuing parking tickets to gross domestic product growth is assigned a target."They do a lot of investment earlier on, to make sure that they won't need to catch up or rush at the end of the year," said Wang, referring to how Chinese provinces meet GDP targets.

Few “Tigers" Rounded Up by Xi Jinping’s Anti-Corruption Campaign

Adam Rose of Reuters wrote: “China had investigated 129 officials at the departmental-bureau level and above for corruption during the January-August period, according to the SPP's newspaper. If investigations remain steady, that would mean roughly 194 for the full year. The annual average over the five years to 2012 was 186, or just over one high-level official per city with a population of one million people. At the vice-ministerial level and above, China has announced criminal investigations into four top leaders this year. Two other unnamed leaders were mentioned in a party legal newspaper in August. The annual average from 2008-2012 was six. Chinese President Xi Jinping has raised expectations he will tackle corruption much more forcefully than his predecessors, but official data on investigations suggests the crackdown so far is little different to previous years. Authorities have opened a similar number of corruption probes in 2013 to last year, data from the Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP), which oversees criminal investigations and prosecutions nationwide, shows.

Famous red mansion in Xiamen, which thrived under corruption while Xi was governor of teh region in the 1990s

“And while at least eight leaders ranked vice-minister or above have been investigated by the discipline commission and removed from office up to November of this year for violations of party discipline, often a codeword for corruption, at least 10 were toppled in 2009. Such moves, announced by state media, precede any criminal investigation. Experts said this year's numbers suggested the anti-graft drive may be more about bolstering the party's image given the attention in state media to the government's success in catching offenders. "I think the goal of the anti-corruption campaign is to establish more legitimacy for the party. The goal ... is not to arrest more people," said Wang, from the University of Pennsylvania.

“Few "tigers" have been rounded up under Xi's tenure. In May, Liu Tienan, the former deputy head of China's top planning agency, was removed from his post after allegations of corruption were posted against him online. A criminal investigation was opened in August. Authorities also recently said several former executives at state energy giant PetroChina and its parent China National Petroleum Corporation were being probed for "serious discipline violations", shorthand generally used to describe graft. The executives included Jiang Jiemin, the former chairman of both entities and who most recently headed the government body that oversees state firms. Authorities have given no details on their alleged wrongdoing. Wang said the low prosecution rate overall so far this year could indicate authorities wanted to unravel big cases, and that results might come next year. "That would mean it's actually very serious," said Wang. "They single out the flies, but they want to find the tigers behind the flies."

Xi Purges Corrupt Officials to Put Own Men in Place?

In April 2014, Benjamin Kang Lim and Megha Rajagopalan of Reuters wrote: “Xi Jinping plans to use a purge of senior officials suspected of corruption to put his own men and reform-minded bureaucrats into key positions across the Communist Party, the government and the military, sources said. Xi hopes that removing corrupt officials and those resisting change will allow him to consolidate his grip on power and implement difficult economic, judicial and military reforms that he believes are vital to perpetuate one-party rule, said the sources, who have ties to the leadership. In the most far-reaching example of his intentions, Xi plans to promote about 200 progressive officials from the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang, where he served as party boss from 2002 to 2007, to senior positions across the spectrum in the years ahead, two of them said. "The anti-corruption (drive) is a means to an end. The goal is to promote his own men and like-minded officials to key positions to push through reforms," said one source. [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Megha Rajagopalan, Reuters, April 16, 2014]

“To be sure, Xi is also tackling endemic corruption to try to restore public faith in the party, other sources said. The seven sources interviewed for this article sought anonymity to avoid repercussions for discussing secretive elite politics. In looking for people he can trust, Xi, 60, will also tap reform-minded officials from his alma mater Tsinghua University in Beijing and other provinces, one source said. But his key recruiting ground will be Zhejiang, south of Shanghai. The province is seen as ideologically progressive and has long been at the forefront of economic reforms thanks to the concentration of private firms there that helped make China the world's factory. Besides promoting officials from Zhejiang to the party, the central government and the military, Xi would send them to other provinces, said the first two sources. Xi himself comes from northwest Shaanxi province.

“Zhejiang party chief Xia Baolong, a Xi ally, is the leading candidate to take the challenging job of running the restive region of Xinjiang this year or next and then possibly becoming a member of the decision-making Politburo in 2017, sources said. In addition, one of Xi's closest aides, Zhong Shaojun, a native of Zhejiang, was likely to be further promoted in the People's Liberation Army following a late start to his military career, said two sources who have ties to the military. In an unusual move, Xi made Zhong, a civilian for most of his career, a PLA senior colonel last year when he appointed him deputy director of the General Office of the Central Military Commission. That effectively made Zhong his point man with the military. The General Office sets agendas for meetings and trips to military facilities around China for Xi and the top brass. The commission is the military's top decision-making body. Zhong, 45, is likely to be promoted to major-general this year or next, the sources said.

“Using corruption to topple rivals is not uncommon in China. Xi's predecessor Hu Jintao went after two Politburo members - Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu in 2006 and Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai in 2012. Hu's predecessor Jiang Zemin purged former Politburo member Chen Xitong for corruption in 1995. Some sources say one reason Xi put Zhou under investigation was to eradicate any lingering influence of Bo Xilai, one of the most charismatic but divisive Chinese politicians of his generation. Zhou had opposed the ouster of Bo, who was jailed for life in September for corruption and abuse of power after a murder scandal involving his wife. "There's a risk of a backlash from elders if they believe the anti-graft campaign has gone too far," said Bo Zhiyue, an expert on elite Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore. "The issue for Xi is how to manage the whole campaign to make sure he himself remains secure."

Xi Jinping’s Anti-Graft Drive Hits Jiang Zemin’s Base

In August 2014, AFP reported: “Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign is turning its focus to the power base of his predecessor Jiang Zemin, with prosecutors in Shanghai announcing a former official's arrest for corruption. Businessman Wang Zongnan was put under investigation two weeks ago for suspected embezzlement of public funds and bribe-taking when he headed two state-controlled retail chains, Shanghai prosecutors said. Authorities approved his arrest the same day, it said. [Source: AFP, August 12, 2014]

“Wang was once an aide to former Shanghai Communist party chief Chen Liangyu, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2008 for bribery and abuse of power. China's financial capital has long been seen as Jiang's turf — he was once its party chief himself and his faction in the ruling party is known as the "Shanghai Gang". Chen was widely considered a close associate and political ally of the former president. Zhou Yongkang , the most senior member of the Communist Party to be investigated since the infamous Gang of Four, was also seen as a Jiang ally. State media have announced a two-month investigation of Shanghai by officers of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Communist Party's internal watchdog.Chinese media reports said the arrest of Wang, who retired last year as chairman of state-owned Bright Food Group, "may be the beginning of the anti-corruption storm in Shanghai".

China Investigates Top Aide of Hu Jintao

In December 2014, Chinese authorities has launched an investigation into Ling Jihua, former President Hu Jintao's most senior aide. The BBC reported: “Ling Jihua is accused of "disciplinary violations", Xinhua news agency said, which usually refers to corruption. He was demoted in 2012 after reports that his son had died crashing his Ferrari sports car in Beijing. Correspondents say the investigation shows current President Xi Jinping feels secure enough to detain even the trusted advisers of his predecessor. [Source: Martin Patience, BBC, December 22, 2014 ^]

“President Xi Jinping has described his anti-corruption campaign as a fight against tigers as well as flies. This year has seen a succession of once untouchable Communist Party officials making tearful confessions in courtrooms before shuffling off to serve long prison terms. But even by the sensational standards of recent months, Ling Jihua is a very big tiger indeed. He was, in effect, presidential chief of staff to Mr Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao - the gatekeeper at the very heart of power for a decade. ^

“Ling Jihua's problems began more than two years ago when rumours began to swirl about an alleged cover-up over his son, who died while driving his Ferrari alongside two semi-clad young women. Over recent months the net has been closing in on the entire Ling family as corruption investigations were announced into one brother after another. But the announcement about Ling Jihua brings the anti-corruption campaign very close to a former president - an unmistakable message to the public that the entire system is riddled with corruption. ^

“In early December 2014, it was announced that former Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang was facing corruption charges. A week later, former top economic official Liu Tienan was jailed for life for accepting millions of dollars in bribes. Critics say President Xi's campaign is as much about eliminating political rivals as it is about tackling corruption. But by taking on such senior officials, President Xi will win the support of the public. ^

“Until the scandal involving his son, Mr Ling had been tipped for promotion to the party's Politburo. Instead, he was moved from head of the Central Committee's General Office - in effect chief of staff to China's leader - and appointed to the less influential post of head of the United Front Work Department. The identity of those inside the Ferrari was never revealed and censors blocked online comments mentioning the crash. However, reports said Mr Ling's son was behind the wheel and the two passengers were described as scantily-clad women. Mr Ling was accused of trying to cover up the scandal.” ^

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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