By Chang Ping, published December 17, 2013 (Chinese original published on December 6)
In the walled-in court of the Chinese Communist Party’s ruling elite, big dramas proceed one after another. The Bo Xilai-Wang Lijun-Gu Kailai series was sensational enough, and the Zhou Yongkang case is going to be even more earthshaking. Rumor has it that the former member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee and former secretary of the CCP Central Politics and Law Commission has been placed under Shuanggui (双规, Party discipline to investigate a cadre in designated place and for a designated duration). It is said that his wife, son and close associates have been held too.
For the past months, Zhou Yongkang’s henchmen have fallen left and right, and rumors have been rife. Up to this point, the CCP still has not officially confirmed the situation of Zhou Yongkang. But no waves are made without wind, and people have reason to believe that these rumors have truth to them, given how the Party’s information control mechanism works.
Some say the takedown of Zhou Yongkang reflects the anti-corruption resolve of the new Chinese leader Xi Jinping. At the beginning of the year, Xi Jinping vowed to crack down on both “tigers” and “flies.” So, who are the biggest tigers anyway? After Bloomberg News reported on the not-so-transparent fortunes of the Xi family, the two sites Bloomberg.com and Businessweek.com were promptly blocked by China’s Great Fire Wall, and repercussions are still being felt today. Last week, people in civilian clothes who claimed to be plainclothes police officers made unannounced “inspections” on Bloomberg’s offices in Beijing and Shanghai. This week, Robert Hutton, a reporter for Bloomberg, was banned from attending a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
Zhou Yongkang is no doubt a giant “tiger.” The Chinese say, when two dogs fight, each fills its mouth with the other’s hair (狗咬狗，一嘴毛), meaning that infighting is always ugly. How should we describe a tiger fight then? Heroes trading blows, or an anti-graft campaign? Neither. Under a dictatorship, struggle on the top level is bound to be a struggle raging in the palace that has nothing to do with the rule of law.
Lately, I have often come upon discussions about the Zhou Yongkang case. People asked me whether Zhou Yongkang would be arrested and tried. My take is that, as hard-hitting and heavy-handed as Xi Jinping is, it is unlikely that Zhou Yongkang will be arrested and tried purely for financial corruption. Unlikely for factional struggle either. I even believe that, without Wang Lijun’s flight to the U.S. Consulate, an anomaly by all means, there would have been no breakout of the Bo Xilai case, even though he was corrupt, coveted power, and his wife murdered someone. Without democratic elections, power will only be distributed internally, so it’s no wonder that there have been, and will always be, constant power struggles behind closed doors. At the same time, it’s also a natural instinct for the system to shield and protect the powerful and the privileged. We can almost ascertain that, in this system, one’s freedom to commit outrages is in direct proportion to one’s official rank.
But the script of the power play was rewritten by Wang Lijun’s derailing behaviors. They reversed the destinies of Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai while exposing Zhou Yongkang like a big fish being washed up on the shore. He could still have survived the disaster more or less unscathed if it was not for murdering his wife, as the rumors suggest. More crucially, he collided with Bo Xilai in a bid to overturn the decision made during the CCP’s 17th Congress that Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang would succeed to the leadership positions of Party Secretary and Prime Minister, respectively, in the 18th Congress. Bo and Zhou are said to have aimed at, first, getting Bo Xilai into the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th Congress, and then staging a Zhongnanhai coup to assassinate Xi Jinping and make Bo Xilai the General Secretary.
These rumors are dubious until they are confirmed. What they reveal though, even just as rumors, is how far beyond an anti-graft campaign the CCP power struggle is, and how bloody the hand-to-hand combat is. Not easily imaginable for you and me. If the CCP didn’t publicize it, few would believe that the elegant, good-looking Gu Kailai could murder someone with her own hands, nor could we imagine the supposed assassination plan of Zhou Yongkang and Bo Xilai.
In politics without transparency and balance, there is always an excess of ruthlessness and dirty dealing under the smooth surface of harmony. The exposure of these inside events is a loud and definitive slap to the face of the scribblers on the regime’s payroll who have advocated the advantages of a “collective presidency.”
Loathing the abuses of the powerful and the privileged, people tend to cheer the one who axes them while ignoring the fact that more often than not, the same tactics have been employed to suppress dissidents as well as ordinary people. Since his leadership began, Xi Jinping has surpassed his predecessors in cracking down on free expression and persecuting dissidents, and this trend is unlikely to change with the downfall of Zhou Yongkang. Until news about Zhou Yongkang is officially announced, even the word “Kang Shifu” (康师傅, the brand of ramen noodles with which netizens refer to Zhou Yongkang) is unsearchable on Sina Weibo.
Furthermore, just as the regime avoided trying Bo Xilai for his more egregious crimes, such as wanton imprisonment, executions, and the unlawful confiscation of private property, all in the name of the “crackdown on black” (打黑), Zhou Yongkang will not be tried for his excesses in the name of “stability maintenance” that occurred during his tenure as the secretary of the Central Politics and Law Commission. He expanded the power of the police, installed secret police, monitored the life of average people at will, suppressed mass incidents brutally, arrested a large number of dissidents and even just people who voiced discontent, and spiked stability maintenance spending to exceed that of military, waging in effect a ten-year war against the people. He will not be charged or tried for any of these crimes.
What Xi Jinping has been trying to do has been described by many as “walking the Bo Xilai line without Bo Xilai.” Likewise, Xi will also be carrying on the torch of “stability maintenance,” spearheaded by Zhou Yongkang and others, and bring it to greater heights.
Chang Ping (长平), former chief commentator and news director of Southern Weekend. In April, 2008, Chang Ping was removed from his positions for the article Tibet: Truth and Nationalist Sentiments, published in the Financial Times Chinese edition. In August, 2010, ordered by the CCP Propaganda Department, the Southern Media Group banned his writings from the Southern Metropolis Daily and Southern Weekend, and the ban soon became nation-wide. Websites were ordered to take down everything written by Chang Ping. In January, 2011, he was asked to leave the Southern Media Group. He then worked in Hong Kong as the editor in chief of iSun Affairs (《阳光时务周刊》) until the authorities denied him a work visa out of pressure from the Chinese government. He lives in Germany now and is a current affairs commentator for South China Morning Post.
(Translation by ChinaChange.org)