By Hu Ping, published: June 15, 2015
“Anti-corruption is a double-edged sword: while it strikes Party cadres who violate discipline and the law, it hurts the Party organization, and damages the image of the Party. For every official that’s punished, the hurt he personally suffers is nothing compared to the harm done to the Party organization.” – CCDI
Recently someone asked me when Zhou Yongkang would be tried. I said: no reports, no idea. Then on June 11, the news appeared—though upon closer inspection, it turned out he was actually tried and sentenced on May 22. So it took 20 days for the Chinese media to report the news.
For the Zhou Yongkang affair, which has attracted the attention of the world, to be wrapped up in such hasty manner makes one thing very clear: the authorities want to play down the “beat the tiger,” or the anti-corruption, campaign, signaling a significant change in the campaign. The two remaining tigers in custody, Ling Jihua and Guo Boxiong, are the dregs—awkward to sentence, awkward not to sentence; the most likely scenario is a lenient punishment while Party Central beats a hasty retreat.
As I’ve written previously, the first thing the opponents of Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan’s purge want to do would be “eliminate those who have been given bad counsel to the emperor” (“清君侧”) — that is, weaken the power of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. And this has already begun.
As People’s Daily Online reported on June 10, the website of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) recently published three analysis pieces on discipline work: “When dealing with politics, think of the bigger picture,” “Stress the enforcement of discipline,” and “Innovative methods in supervision and investigation.” These three essays were first published on the website of the CCDI, but their contents were a clear attack on the disciplinary apparatus, and in particular the central disciplinary apparatus. The articles criticized a small number of Party disciplinary officials, accusing them of violating procedures, punishing cadres before establishing guilt, unduly pressuring those senior to them, and sternly warning the CCDI not to become an “independent fiefdom.” The articles said that the CCDI mustn’t become the Party’s internal “police, prosecutor and judge,” and that it should get back to the business of taking care of cadre discipline, not incessantly trying to mount “big cases,” catching more “tigers,” and so on and so forth. If this isn’t an attack on the CCDI and Wang Qishan (王岐山), then what is?
The articles even seemed intent on raising a revolt against the anti-corruption campaign. The article “Stress the enforcement of discipline” goes so far as saying: “Anti-corruption is a double-edged sword: while it strikes Party cadres who violate discipline and the law, it hurts the Party organization, and damages the image of the Party. For every official that’s punished, the hurt that individual suffers is far outstripped by the damage inflicted upon the Party organization.”
Quite the “double-edged sword!” Going by this logic, the anti-corruption campaign launched by Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, while ostensibly meant to protect and save the Party, is actually at the same time harming and ruining the Party, and doing more of the latter than the former. That is tantamount to saying that the anti-corruption campaign is actually an anti-Party campaign.
Last year a rumor appeared online that Jiang Zemin once reprimanded Wang Qishan: “What on earth are you doing? Do you care at all about the Party’s image? Do you want to tell the whole world about our conflicts here in Party Central?” This story has a ring of truth to it: Jiang Zemin could very well have put this to Wang Qishan, and facing that sort of questioning, what could he say?
When all this started, Xi and Wang’s campaign of “smashing tigers and swatting flies” seemed to be rather high-sounding and dignified, righteous and strict, secure in taking the moral high ground. And of course, the entrenched opposition naturally opposed it, in part with reason. Chinese people for a long time have been saying: “Opposing corruption will bring the Party ruin.” This is also the reason why Xi and Wang’s internal rivals oppose the anti-corruption campaign. But the opposition never actually dared spell it out. They were passive. Now, they’ve actually brought the argument into the public, no doubt a forced and desperate counterattack. With arguments like “corruption is a double-edged sword,” and the claim that “the harm done the Party is greater than the harm to the corrupt official,” just how is the anti-corruption campaign going to continue?
According to a report in Caijing on June 10, after a county-level disciplinary official from Qing’an in Heilongjiang traveled to Beijing in early April to report the corruption of leading cadres there, he was soon beaten to within an inch of his life by a gang of masked men. Hospitalized, he died 28 days later.
The beating was carried out in broad daylight, in the street. Clearly, the thugs were not concerned in the least. The official’s family said that he had no personal grudges. After the matter was reported to the police, county Party leaders established a special investigation team to crack the case. But over two months later, there’s been no progress.
In the latest development of the case, Xinhua on June 11 announced that Suihua City (a prefecture-level city with jurisdiction over Qing’an County, where the crime took place) in Heilongjiang has opened an investigation.
But “once the arrow has left the bow, there’s no getting it back.” Such is Xi Jinping’s predicament: If you don’t succeed in taking down the tiger, the tiger’s going after you. It’s not hard to tell that inside the Chinese Communist Party right now an undercurrent is surging forth, and we’re entering a season of strife.
Hu Ping (胡平) is the chief editor of Beijing Spring, a long-running New York-based Chinese-language magazine. Mr. Hu has been one of the best known Chinese liberal thinkers and commentators since early 1980s, and his essay On Freedom of Expression influenced many intellectuals and students in China in the 80s when he was a graduate student of philosophy at Peking University.
Also by Hu Ping:
How the Tiananmen Massacre Changed China, and the World, June 2, 2015.
(Translated by Matthew Robertson)
Chinese 《胡平：周案落幕 打虎告停 纪委削权 内斗方酣》