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Politics of the Death Penalty in China

By Teng Biao, published: January 16, 2014



Throughout history, the death penalty has always been associated with famous people: from Socrates, Jesus, and Giordano Bruno to Joan of Arc, Madame Roland, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer; from Bi Gan (比干), Yue Fei (岳飞) to Yuan Chonghuan (袁崇焕), Tan Sitong (谭嗣同), Yu Luoke (遇罗克), Lin Zhao (林昭); from Li Si (李斯), Shang Yang (商鞅), Charles I, Louis XVI, Maximilien de Robespierre to Hermann Göring, Adolf Eichmann, Nicolae Ceaușescu, and Saddam Hussein. In all of these cases, the death penalty had more to do with politics than with law–much more so. But this article focuses on the politics of the death penalty in contemporary China.

“The Rule of Psychosis”

With the Hunan tycoon Zeng Chengjie (曾成杰) and the Shenyang street vendor Xia Junfeng (夏俊峰), the manipulators behind the curtains were determined to end their lives. Similarly and without suspense, Gu Kailai (谷开来), daughter of a general, and Liu Zhijun (刘志军), the former railway minister, had their death sentences commuted.

The Xinhua headline after Liu Zhijun was sentenced read, “Trial of Liu Zhijun Demonstrates Respect for the Rule of Law.” A netizen made a lively retort, “I really think the headline means to say ‘the Rule of Psychosis.’”

Isn’t there a psychosis in our rule of law? Liu Zhijun, accepting bribes of more than 60 million yuan and owning 374 houses, gets a commuted death sentence while so many other “upright officials” are executed merely for amounts of several million or even hundreds of thousands of yuan. Then, among those whose corruption exceeds 100 million yuan, Jiang Renjie (姜人杰) and Xu Maiyong (许迈永), former vice-mayor of Suzhou and Hangzhou respectively, were both put to death, whereas Sinopec CEO and Party Secretary Chen Tonghai (陈同海) and the Party Secretary of Shanghai Electric Corporation Wang Chengming (王成明) were given commuted death sentences. The commuted death sentence of Wang Shouye (王守业), the Navy’s deputy commander, was changed to life imprisonment. Yu Zhendong (余振东) got 12 years in prison for 482 million yuan. Public Security Minister Tao Siju (陶驷驹) got immunity from prosecution and was merely placed on Party probation for embezzlement of 700 million. Isn’t the law psychotic?

It is said that, if the law was strictly enforced, not that many delegates could have taken part in the Party’s 18th Congress. Charged with the same crime of corruption, why do some people die and others live, and still others live quite comfortably and even join the ranks of party and state leaders? Getting arrested or not, getting a light sentence or not, being executed or not, there are absolutely no rules to follow. Those who steal a small amount are put to death while those who plunder become princes of the state. Isn’t the law psychotic?

Some officials are partial to corruption, bribery and women, others like to murder. For the same crime of murdering or hiring murderers to kill, Shi Honghai (史洪海), Deputy Director of the Civil Affairs Bureau in Shangshui County, Henan Province; Xuan Xiong (宣雄), Chair of the Ocean and Fishery Bureau in Suixi County, Guangdong; and Chen Jinyun (陈锦云), Chair of Anyi County in Jiangxi Province, received commuted death sentences, but Duan Yihe (段义和), Chair of the People’s Congress in Jinan Province; Lu Debin (吕德彬), Vice Governor of Henan Province; and Li Changhe (李长河), Pingdingshan Municipal Committee Secretary were immediately executed. For premeditated murder, Gu Kailai (谷开来) got a commuted death sentence, but street vendor Xia Junfeng (夏俊峰) of Shenyang City was executed for legitimate self-defense that caused the death of two Chenguans, or urban management enforcers. Cao Haixin (曹海鑫), a citizen in Henan province, was also sentenced to death and shot dead for legitimate self-defense. In addition, there have been a large number of innocent citizens who have committed no crimes yet have been tortured until they “confessed” and then wrongly executed, such as Teng Xingshan, Nie Shubin, Qoγsiletu, Gan Jinhua and others. Isn’t the law psychotic?

Far from it.

Psychosis is frequently manifested by brain dysfunction, distortion of reality, abnormal mental activities, and problems with memory, motivation and behavior. Does the death penalty in cases such as Liu Zhijun, Gu Kailai and Zeng Chengjie show that the Chinese legal system is psychotic? No way. Not only is it not psychotic, but makes precise judgment and shrewd calculation in complex situations.

The Death Penalty as a “Tool of Revolutionary Politics” 

To talk about the politics of the death penalty, let’s go back a little in time, to the “beginning of time” (as Hu Feng said), the founding year of the Communist reign. From the barrel of a gun, Mao Zedong and his comrades set up a communist totalitarian system with Chinese characteristics. Raising havoc on the masses in the name of mass movement is the core repertoire of totalitarian politics. “Politics takes command,” and everything else must be subordinate to the political struggle: whether it’s economics, religion, art and literature, childbirth or the law. Thus from the outset the death penalty was called the tool of revolutionary politics. Many were killed during the suppression of counterrevolutionaries and the massacre of the land owners; the indiscriminate extrajudicial killings were perpetrated after the public security apparatus was smashed up during the Cultural Revolution; and the death sentence was used gratuitously in the 1983 Strike Hard Campaign. In all these and more, the death penalty has always been a political tool, a move in the overall chess game, a sharp blade in the political arsenal, a political costume drama draped in the false clothes called justice.

At the start of the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi and the CCP Central Committee gave a plethora of directives: “We expect to have a lot more suppression down the road. If we report each killing, there will be too much propaganda on killing people in the newspaper, and there may be a side effect.” “In cases where the blood debt is serious or when the masses demand that the death penalty be meted out, and when it is believed that the outcome of an execution would be more favorable than not executing, then the death sentence can be meted out.” After 1951 Mao clearly disliked the fact that overall in the country executions were carried out too few and too slowly. He repeatedly said he wanted “several mass killings.” In February 1951 in accordance with Mao’s urging, the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee specifically discussed the execution to population ratio and “decided to increase the rate of killings from one per thousand persons to 1.5 per thousand and then reassess the situation later.” Mao clearly directed cadres in charge of Shanghai: “Shanghai is a large city of six million people, given that Shanghai has arrested more than 20,000 people and only killed over 200, I think that in 1951 you should kill at least 3,000 people who have committed major crimes such as bandit leaders, hardened bandits, standover merchants, spies and secret society bosses. And in the first half of the year at least 1,500 people should be killed.” The Public Security Ministry demanded a “ferocious operation and enormous firepower” to execute criminals.

So, all over China a secret competition got underway on execution statistics. Shanghai executed nearly 2,000 people in six months. Some cities executed hundreds of people in a day. Fujian Province executed 2.4 people in every thousand. The number of executions nationwide, on the CCP ‘s own statistics, the most conservative, were as many as 712,000. There was a blind fury of murdering, and countless people were unjustly, or mistakenly, murdered.

When the death penalty got seriously out of control, Mao opened his mouth again: “My thinking goes along these lines: it’s okay to exceed one in a thousand, but not by too much, …… 13,000 have already been killed in Guizhou province with a population of ten million, and the Provincial Party Committee requested to execute another 22,000 to 25,000. We can allow them to kill a little over another 10,000, sparing more than 10,000. This is already more than the ratio of two per thousand.”

The political nature of the death penalty is clearest in the public trials and sentencing of counterrevolutionaries and landlords: thousands of gawkers, mass denunciations, public frenzy, political propaganda, live radio broadcasts, street parades, and public executions. Add to this the declarations of political correctness, the competition to be further left, execution quotas, torture by lynch mobs, wrongful killing of innocent people, and this period in the history of the death penalty is one of lawless and immoral totalitarian brutality.

As for the death penalty for corrupt officials, Zhang Zishan (张子善) and Liu Qingshan (刘青山) were the best known of the Mao era. Together their corruption totaled 17.6 billion yuan, in current terms a piffling 1.71 million. Among today’s officials they would be honest and upright officials. But the lives of the party cadre bosses, just like the lives of other ranks of Chinese people, depend on the requirements of each political campaign. Mao said, “We must execute them in order to redeem the 20, 200, 2000, and 20000 cadres who have made mistakes to various degrees.” Actually this was like the Cao Cao story of “I want your head on a platter.” After the fanfare and publicity of the sacrifice their orphaned children would be given a monthly allowance.

As for the death penalty for political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, it was by nature political. At the very forefront of the judgment handing down the death sentence for Lin Zhao (林昭) is one of the “Highest Directives” from Mao: “No matter where the counterrevolutionaries stir up trouble, they must be totally eliminated” and “There are certainly diehards who would rather meet their maker than change their minds, that will be fine and they will make no difference to the big picture.” The organ responsible for Lin Zhao’s verdict was “The Shanghai Military Control Commission of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Combining the Public Security Bureau, Prosecutor’s Office and Court.”

Liu Wenhui (刘文辉), Yu Luoke (遇罗克), Wang Shenyou (王申酉), Li Lian (黎莲), Li Jiulian (李九莲), Lu Hongen (陆洪恩) …… the list goes on and on.  As in the book “1984”, the death penalty is the destiny of those who resist. But George Orwell never imagined billing families for the cost of bullets, throat cutting, corpse mutilation, live organ harvesting, cannibalism and the like.

As soon as Mao died, the Gang of Four and others were secretly arrested by the upper echelon in a virtual palace coup (Chen Yun said: “This is the last; no more.”), but they were put on trial with a semblance of judicial process. Wheeling and dealing happened outside the courtroom, but they went through the motions of a judicial process: the core issue was how to pin the crimes of Mao and the Party Central Committee on a tiny assortment of conspirators. The Party must be right at all time, so those who had committed the errors had to be, by default, counterrevolutionaries who had enmeshed themselves within Party structures. Thus every mistake the party made actually presented itself with a glorious opportunity to strive for a correction and a return to the true path. Now we seem to have finally figured out why the party is so much into making mistakes. The commuted death sentences of Jiang Qing and Zhang Chunqiao in the end are probably the best known examples of Chinese Communist Party officials receiving such sentences. Unlike the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, this political trial painstakingly fashioned itself in many more of the trappings of judicial process. The slow process of “legalization” of political cases in China thus began.

Next we move onto “Strike Hard” (严打) in the 1980s.  The 1983 crackdown saw 24,000 people executed by firing squads over a period of eight months. The Public Security Bureau, Procuratorate and Court coordinated to conduct the cases. It was a bloodbath of terror with confessions under torture followed by “swift and severe justice.” People were tied with ropes and paraded through the streets with placards hanging from their necks before public executions. To meet targets there were huge numbers executed for crimes which did not deserve the death sentence or for minor offences; everywhere there were cases of completely innocent people wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. During the crackdown, Zhu Guohua (朱国华), the grandson of Zhu De (朱德), was shot by firing squad for the crime of hooliganism. The directive handed down by Comrade Kang Keqing read: “A prince is punished for a crime just like anyone else!” Zhu’s grandson’s so-called crime of hooliganism was nothing more than a little excess while picking up girls. This is just one example of countless cases of unjust sentencing for common or garden variety thefts, robberies or touching up women. But it was probably the last time a descendant of a founding ruler was sentenced to death. In terms of mass mobilization, the “friend/foe” narrative, the atmosphere of terror, the disregard for procedures, and the extent of human rights violations, the 1983 “Strike Hard” campaign was a smaller version of the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries. After this there were many similar campaigns creating havoc throughout the nation where politics steamrolled the administration of justice. The most terrifying was the suppression of the Falun Gong movement after 1999; but geographically, the most bloodthirsty has been the “Strike Black” campaign by Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun.

Politics of Anti-corruption

If the death penalty during the Land Reform campaign, the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries, and the Three-anti and Five-anti Campaigns typified the manic methods of pathological bloodthirsty frenzy in an early stage of totalitarianism, then the “Strike Hard” campaign demonstrated pathological convulsion to rule the country through political campaigns in the late stage of totalitarianism. The later trials (or the absence of trials) and the death penalty (or the absence of the death penalty) for corrupt officials or greedy tycoons involved precise calculation by the new totalitarian system disguised in a socialist pseudo market economy; they involved punctilious judgments, shrewd dealings, and conscientious performances.

With Mao’s death the extreme “politics in command” reached its end. But this certainly did not mean that some form of political centralism was no longer practiced. The bloody class struggle gave place to the bureaucratic culture of economic plunder and bureaucratic infighting which hid beneath a transformation strategy of “let a few bigwigs get rich first.” At least on the surface, the country continued its process of governance under a legal framework. Although it was a million miles away from the rule of law, small steps towards a new governance model included: the restoration of the systems of public security, procuratorate, court and lawyers; the introduction of the Criminal Law and the Criminal Procedure Law; Document Number 64 of 1979 abolishing the system of direct review and approval of criminal cases by Party Committees; the trial of the Gang of Four; and the 1982 Constitution. In the end, apart from intermittent episodes of crackdown, there was a need after all for legalized routine governance to replace havoc-raising succession of political campaigns.

The powerful and their friends and families savored the fruits not only of the policy of reform and opening up but also of the lack of democracy and rule of law. The fruits include the dual-track system [of social security and benefits], bureaucratic profiteering, the use of public office for private gain, government-run media, and party control of justice. Corruption immediately became a major issue which the rulers had to face. Corralling corruption was a necessity, otherwise the Great, the Glorious and the Correct (伟光正) image of the party would be tarnished and discontent would boil over and threaten the regime.

But allowing corruption was even more of a necessity: Without corruption who would want to work for the party? In a village in Shanxi, the Party Secretary Wang Genping (王根平) spoke the truth: “What’s the point of being an official if I’m not corrupt!?” After the shootings of 1989 it was even more so. Opening fire on citizens and students on June 4th that year was actually akin to administering the death penalty in a state of emergency: Soldiers took the place of the court marshals; the square at night took the place of an execution ground in daylight; military orders took the place of written judicial processes and verdicts; expanding bullets and tanks took the place of ordinary bullets; random victims took the place of death row prisoners. As for the myth about the effectiveness of the politics of terror (“murdering 200,000 people would ensure two decades of stability”), it’s an expanded version of the myth that the death penalty is a deterrent.

A certain general said [online]: “There’s only one thing in the world that can defeat the Chinese army, and that’s corruption.” A reader retorted in the comment section: “There’s only one thing in the world that can safeguard such corruption, and that’s the Chinese army.” Corruption has become commonplace. In a system without formation of other political parties to contend for power, without separation of powers, without checks and balances, without an independent judiciary, without independent media, and without elected officials, to assume corruption can be curbed is to assume that every man under the sun would be the legendary Zhan Huo (柳下惠) of eminent virtue. Honest officials in China must be the crème de la crème. With few exceptions, the likelihood and extent of corruption is in direct proportion to the power of an official.

Officials benefit from being corrupt; the party benefits from “anti-corruption” campaigns. There are at least four benefits: buying popular support; giving jobs to one’s cronies; creating fear by taking revenge on your opponents; and, maintaining the same system in which corruption continues. Corruption is institutionalized, but fighting corruption is a long, long way from being institutionalized. At most it’s “semi-institutionalized.” The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the CCDI Supervision Department, the Anti-graft and Anti-Bribery Bureau of the Supreme Procuratorate, and the “double designations (双规)” system for interrogating party officials, all operate outside the legal system. But more importantly, whether you are arrested or not, sentenced or not, die or not, seems totally a matter of whim without rules.

It seems there are no rules, but in fact it isn’t so. The likelihood and severity of being punished for corruption is inversely proportional to the real power of an official or his backers. Higher ranking officials are less likely to be sentenced to death. No one is going to believe that a system like China’s would constrain corruption rather than promote it. Institutionalization of corruption and the lack of institutionalization for fighting corruption are two important, complementary prerequisites for a system where officials obey their superiors and remain loyal to the Party.

Officials who come a cropper have basically bitten the dust in a political struggle. Behind every corruption trial there is a series of deals. It’s like a food chain in which bribes are both offered and accepted; the more complex the network the more benefits there are, the more secure you are. Once caught, if you confess too little, you would not have earned enough merit to have your sentence reduced; but if you confess too much, those above you will exterminate you to stop you from implicating them. It’s sure to go pear-shaped if you confess what you shouldn’t have confessed and didn’t confess what you should have confessed.

There is a skit that goes like this: A provincial governor was given a suspended death sentence for corruption. His son visited him in prison and said he couldn’t find work after graduating from university. The governor said, “I will write a note [to someone for help.” The son said, “Do you still have pull in here?” The governor said, “Of course I do. I can send anyone to jail if I want to!” As Bo Xilai revealed in the trial of the century, the CCDI told him two stories: the vice governor of Anhui province Wang Huaizhong (王怀忠) was executed for accepting bribes of five million but the Railway Minister Liu Zhijun got a commuted death sentence for bribes of sixty million. The former refused to admit his guilt while the latter read in court a tearful repentance, thanking the Party for nurturing him. “I am the organization’s man when I live and the organization’s ghost when I die.”

One of the secrets that enables a post-totalitarian system to continue to operate is using the death penalty in anti-corruption to enforce the loyalty (obedience) of officials and using the whole apparatus of the penal system, including the death penalty, and the spoil-sharing system to obtain the loyalty (obedience) of the masses. Totalitarian and post-totalitarian politics need the death penalty, the way they need enemies. Zeng Chengjie and Fan Qihang (樊奇杭) are dead; Wu Ying (吴英) escaped death narrowly. Businessmen seem to be frisking and frolicking but, in reality, they are walzting themselves bound and trussed into the arms of the authorities.” Powerless ordinary people —or Shitizens– are in even more precarious circumstances. No need to even use the public security organs; a chengguan, a police assistant, or even a day laborer can snuff out your life in a second and will snatch your dead body too.

Live or Die, Depending on Who You Are

For those who were once powerful, a commuted death sentence is a wonderful thing: in due time it will be changed to life in prison, life in prison will be changed to a set term, a set term will be reduced, and before long you’re out on bail, probation or medical parole. A few more years later a perfectly good man will be reinvented. Those who don’t come out are special prisoners, and can hold their heads higher than the others despite their broken lives. Compared to worthless shitizens, their lives are a million times richer and more comfortable.

It seems that a commuted death penalty has become the royal reserve punishment for large-scale corrupt officials and tycoons. A partial list of comrades given a commuted death sentence (in no particular order) include:
Li Jizhou (李纪周) – Vice Minister of Public Security;
Li Jiating (李嘉廷) – Governor of Yunnan Province;
Wang Zhaoyao (王昭耀) – Deputy party secretary of Anhui Province;
Cong Fukui (从福奎) – Executive Vice Governor of Hebei Province;
Chen Shaoji  (陈绍基)- Secretary of the Guangdong Provincial Political and Judicial Committee;
Zheng Shaodong (郑少东) – Assistant to the Minister for Public Security;
Xu Zongheng (许宗衡) – Mayor of Shenzhen;
Wang Huayuan (王华元) – Secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Discipline and Inspection Commission;
Mi Fengjun (米凤君) – Deputy Director of Jilin Province People’s Congress Standing Committee;
Guo Shenggui (郭生贵) – Judge of the Xicheng District Court, Beijing;
Li Baojin (李宝金) – Director of Tianjin People’s Procuratorate;
Wang Yi (王益) – Vice President of the National Development Bank

Getting a commuted death sentence has less and less to do with the size of the bribes. “People or Monsters“(《人妖之间》), Liu Bingyan’s investigative report about Wang Shouxin (王守信), describes how she was executed in 1980 for corruption because of “a personal slush fund of nearly 500,000 yuan in cash.” This was a travesty of justice like the Gourd Temple case in the Dream of the Red Chamber. Liu Yiping (刘伊平), a ticket seller at Guangzhou Baiyun Airport, embezzled 550,000. The money was recovered and he wrote a long and full confession, but the political necessities of “Strike Hard” saw his execution in 1991 at only 23 years of age. These days, to be sentenced to death for these amounts is almost unheard of. The policy of using death penalty with caution has been carried out in corruption cases first and most.

In ancient times there was “immunity for Ministers and above.” The so-called “Ba Yi” (八议), a privilege of legal immunity for the officials and aristocrats, applied to crimes committed by the Emperor’s relatives and old friends and Ministers who had given meritorious service, nobility of the former dynasty and their descendants, etc. Ordinary judicial organs had no power to put them on trial. These days the word on the street that “members of the Politburo Standing Committee can’t be convicted and given a sentence and Politburo members can’t be sentenced to death” is not utterly baseless. After the trial of the Gang of Four, no current or former members of the Standing Committee were convicted. It remains to be seen whether Zhou Yongkang will break this convention. And only three Politburo members have been convicted, and they were Chen Xitong (陈希同), Chen Liangyu (陈良宇) and Bo Xilai (薄熙来).

Officials have made fortunes profiteering and those with a lot of nerve and with patrons have become central or local leaders. Before 1997 when the death penalty was abolished for ordinary theft, there were many cases of people being executed by firing squad for stealing merely tens of thousands of yuan. In 1991, Wenzhou businesswoman Zheng Lefen (郑乐芬) was the last person to be executed by firing squad for the crime of “illegal speculation and profiteering.” Before that, many had been sentenced to death for speculation (China’s death penalty data is not public, so I have to use the vague formulation of “many”). In fact, these people were pioneers in the market economy. The death penalty as it is applied to the common man has really been gratuitous and arbitrary. But the logic is the same as ever: it’s certainly not that the law is psychotic: all the death penalty policies and practices are in line with the core logic of the political rule.

The Party Is the Judge 

In the Liu Zhijun case in 2013, the prosecution called for leniency because of his full confession and because the losses had essentially been recovered; the defense lawyer said that Liu’s contribution to the economy was obvious to everyone; and the defendant tearfully thanked the authorities handling the case for teaching him his errors. In other words, the prosecution did the job of the defense, the defense did the job of a government mouthpiece, the judge did the job of a film director, and the defendant did the job of the Propaganda Department. This was all because the Party was doing the job of the judge.

In the Gu Kailai case in 2012, she appeared in court without handcuffs or leg irons, without an orange detention center vest, without being deprived of the right to defense, and of course without having been tortured into making a confession. Pro-government professors and government officials who were invited to the sentencing of Gu, said of the verdict that “the judicial organs adhered to the spirit of handling cases in accordance with the law” and that they had “carried out the principle of the rule of law which was that every single person was equal in the eyes of the law.” A Hefei Court news spokesman said that Gu Kailai undoubtedly had a mental disorder which weakened her self-control as she perpetrated the murder. Gu said: “I feel the decision is fair, it fully reflects the special respect our courts have for the law and for the facts on the ground. It specially shows their respect for life.”

Of course it is special. A special stay of execution for a special you.

On June 29, 2010, my client, Shenyang hawker Xia Junfeng (夏俊峰) appeared in court charged with murder. He had been forced to defend himself against two violent chengguan. He was manhandled into Liaoning Province Superior Court by two menacing and intimidating court police. He was wearing the yellow vest of the Shenhe District Detention Center, handcuffed and shackled. Both Xia Junfeng’s speech and my speech were constantly interrupted.

On December 7, 2010, my client Leng Guoquan (冷国权), a businessman from Dandong (辽宁丹东), was sentenced to death in the second trial in Dandong. Both the defendant and I were interrupted countless times while trying to speak. Leng Guoquan had many documents providing irrefutable evidence that he had been subject to brutal and inhuman torture: he had been “strung up and beaten, electrocuted with a cattle prod, tortured over a fire, punched and kicked, and continuously deprived of sleep.” But the court refused to initiate the procedure for excluding illegal evidence. The overwhelming majority of death penalty cases in which I have been the defense counsel have involved confessions extracted by torture.

On December 16, 2009, the Guangdong Provincial Higher People’s Court sentenced Gan Jinhua (甘锦华) to death. This was a case where a confession had been extracted under torture, the whereabouts of the murder weapon was unknown, and there were 22 major issues of doubt in the prosecution’s evidence. On the second day of Gu Kailai’s trial, on August 10, 2012, Gan Jinhua was secretly executed, without notice to family members or his lawyers.

In October, 2006, the Ankang Municipal Intermediate Court in Shaanxi Province (陕西安康) declared: “Qiu Xinghua (邱兴华) murdered deliberately and with clear purpose, was lucid in answering questions, was clear thinking, and showed no abnormal mental performance.” He was executed immediately. In fact, Qiu Xinghua’s mother and several close relatives suffer from mental illness. His neighbors also testified that Qiu Xinghua often behaved erratically. The defense counsel, psychiatrists, many lawyers, and renowned scholars all agreed that Qiu Xinghua had severe mental illness. They strongly urged that Qiu Xinghua undergo a forensic psychiatric examination, but the court refused.

Xia Junfeng was sentenced to death. He was a laid-off worker who became a street vendor. His father was a street sweeper, not a General. His spouse was also a laid-off worker who became a street vendor, not a Politburo member. Nie Shubin (聂树斌), Gan Jinhua, Qoγsiletu (胡格吉勒图), Teng Xingshan (滕兴善), Cao Haixin (曹海鑫) and Qiu Xinghua were all executed, and all of them farmers or herders, members of the lowest class of the society.

Yao Jiaxin (药家鑫), who was portrayed as a rich brat descendant of a government official, was executed. Triad leader Liu Yong (刘涌) was executed. Non-triad member Fan Qihang (樊奇航) was executed. Wealthy and healthy, Yuan Baojing (袁宝璟) was executed.  Poor and sick, Qiu Xinghua was executed. Poor and innocent of murder, Gan Jinhua was executed. Rich and innocent of murder, Zeng Chengjie (曾成杰) was executed. Rich and murderous, healthy and treacherous, Gu Kailai was given a reprieve. I am opposed to the death penalty. Couldn’t all future cases be like that of Gu Kailai and Liu Zhijun? Couldn’t courts across China use a commuted death penalty in the place of all death penalties?

The hearing of Chen Liangyu’s case was “rehearsed for six months” by prosecutors and the court. “From the coordination and process on day one of the hearing, one senses that the pre-trial rehearsal was extremely tightly organized and the entire process was choreographed to perfection. It was said that there was even a strict timetable for when Chen could have a break or use the bathroom,” according to The Economic Observer. We saw the same in the vast majority of “special” death penalty trials for high-ranking corrupt officials or tycoons. In these trials, from venue to the presiding judge to the assignment of counsel, everything is meticulously selected; court observers are essentially hand-picked; the verdict is well discussed and decided beforehand; and all this has little to do with the judge. Much more is hidden than on display and more questions are left unanswered than resolved in these trials.

Criminal trials are a sporting arena, and Chinese judges have long ago reduced themselves from referees to a member of one of the competing teams. They stand side by side with the investigative organs and procuratorate, reaching secret agreements about how to deal with the defense — the criminal defendant and his lawyers. In some high publicity cases involving high-ranking officials, the Public Security Bureau, the Procuratorate and the court, together with the defendant, actually form a single team, sending a dazzling flurry of combination punches to their weakened opponent – Truth and Justice – in perfect coordination and understanding.

In the politicized judicial environment guided by the “Political and Judicial Committee,” the “Three Supremes (三个至上),” “Homicide Cases Must Be Solved,” and the “Mass Line (群众路线),” there are almost no “normal” death penalty cases. There are few death penalty cases where the Party and the Political and Judicial Committee do not interfere:the Yang Jia case (杨佳), the Chengde case where innocent men were sentenced to death, the She Xianglin case (佘祥林), the Teng Xingshan case, the Nian Bin (念斌) case in Fujian Province, cases involving terrorism, cases involving foreigners, and cases involving Police Officers. Once the death penalty becomes a political bargaining chip, death penalty trials can only result in a mad scramble to ring down the curtain, albeit with the utmost planning and meticulous rehearsal of political theatre.

September, 2013

Teng Biao (滕彪)

Teng Biao (滕彪)

Teng Biao (滕彪) is a legal scholar, human rights lawyer, a pioneer of China’s rights movement, and one of the founders of the Open Constitution Initiative (Gong Meng公盟) that offers legal assistance to the disempowered and the wronged. Dr. Teng Biao writes extensively about the death penalty in China. He is the recipient of several international human rights prizes.

Read more by Teng Biao:

The Confessions of a Reactionary

Changing China through Mandarin

To Remember Is to Resist


(Translated by Kevin McCready)

Chinese original (link to be provided)

Beijing Observation: See You in the New Year, Tiger Zhou

By Gao Yu, published: January 4, 2014


Up until the last day of 2013, the press inside and outside China was still anticipating an announcement about Zhou Yongkang, which would surely have been the most significant event of the year in China.

During Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States in February, 2012, a Washington Times columnist revealed that “Wang Lijun, a deputy mayor in Chongqing, provided explosive details about senior Chinese leaders during an overnight stay and debriefing at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu,” and that “Zhou could arrange the usurpation of Xi and upset the smooth transition from current President Hu Jintao to Xi.” At the time Wang Lijun’s flight had been in the news everywhere, and Chinese netizens immediately used the household name “Kang Shifu”(康师傅), a ramen noodle brand, to refer to the 9th member of the Politburo Standing Committee.

2012 A Difficult Year to Look Back

What exactly did Wang Lijun tell the US consul-in-general? “Kang Shifu” should know the best, because it was a deputy-minister of the Ministry of State Security under his authority who took Wang Lijun from the Consulate to Beijing. Zhou should have been the first to learn the details of the event and then reported them to Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. It was to be revealed later that Wang Lijun had known Zhou Yongkang before he had Gu Kailai and Bo Xilai, and he was indirectly a henchman of the law and security tsar.

During the Two Sessions in March, all eyes were on the Chongqing delegation, and Zhou Yongkang made a public appearance with the delegation. Reports said that he was the one who took Bo Xilai safely to Beijing.

On March 14, Wen Jiabao first framed the Chongqing incident during a news conference as a struggle about the party’s direction and that “historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution may happen again.” This spontaneous move by Wen Jiabao forced the CCP central committee to put the Bo-Gu-Wang incident on the table the next day.

Three days later on the night of March 18, a black Ferrari crashed on the Baofusi overpass, a major traffic conjucture on the 4th ring road in Beijing, destroying the car and causing deaths and injuries. Photos posted online were deleted; and netizens who reported the heavy presence of cops and armed police in Beijing on March 19 were detained for spreading rumors online.

In May, people in the know said that heated argument frequently broke out during the Politburo meetings, because, on May 7, the General Office of the CCP central committee held a direct vote among its members to get an idea of who would likely be chosen for membership in the new Standing Committee. Ling Jihua (令计划), the director of the General Office, was the third of five candidates the Office provided. The Standing Committee, with the exception of Hu Jintao, didn’t know about the vote. It wasn’t until later that people said it was a vote backed by Zhou Yongkang.

On June 29, Bloomberg News published Xi Jinping Millionaire Relations Reveal Fortunes of Elite. It had to be the most serious blow to Xi Jinping who, leader-in-waiting, had conducted himself carefully and required discretion from his relatives. Insiders reported the tension was so high that Xi Jinping was going to relinquish his position, and it was defused when his wife Peng Liyuan disclosed their assets in front of the Standing Committee in person. The insiders also revealed that, in July, the Standing Committee meetings were plagued by even more heated argument because overseas media kept exposing the family fortunes of its members and everyone felt vulnerable. As a result of these arguments, the Standing Committee decided to cancel all of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI)’s internal investigations into the members of the Politburo and the Standing Committee.

At some point, the Beijing public security chief Fu Zhenghua (傅政华) handed to Wang Qishan (王岐山), former Beijing mayor, Zhou Yongkang’s hand written instruction to the Beijing PSB following the Farrari accident in March. I reported this in an earlier installation of Beijing Observation: “Wang Qishan gave it to Zhu Rongji (朱镕基) who, upon learning the details, cursed, ‘Worse than animals!’ Zhu then reported it to Jiang Zemin, and Jiang Zemin said, ‘How can a man uphold the Party’s principle when he has no humanity?’ Jiang Zemin notified Hu Jintao who, up to that point, hadn’t had the slightest idea about what had been going on, and had to replace Ling Jihua who had kept everything from Hu’s knowledge. The leaders finally learnt the truth about the car crash of Ling’s son Ling Gu after it being tucked away for five months with the help of Zhou Yongkang.

On October 25, 2012, the New York Times published an investigative report by its Shanghai Bureau Chief David Barboza that detailed how the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s family amassed a fortune of 2.7 billion US dollars over the past 20 years.

When the nine dragons, or known as China’s “nine presidents,” came to attend the 18th Party’s Congress, each was bruised and wounded.

Over the party’s congress, Xi Jinping assumed power smoothly, Hu Jintao retired completely, and Zhou Yongkang and the rest of the older Standing Committee members retired. Even Jiang Jiemin (蒋洁敏), Chairman and Party Secretary of PetroChina who assisted Ling Jihua to pay big sums to the two injured Tibetan girls involved in the car crash, made it into the Central Committee.

Now that the new era had begun, how many more bloody power struggles would the new emperor have to put up with?

The sign came as soon as the Party Congress was over: A case was filed to investigate Li Chuncheng (李春城), the deputy Party secretary of Sichuan province and a newly-elected alternate member of the CCP Central Committee.

Dealing with a Law and Politics Tsar of Ten Years with Networks in the Party, the Government and the Petroleum Industry

In January, 2013, the new CCDI held its second meeting during which Xi Jinping vowed to “fight the tigers and swat the flies at the same time.” Soon, high level insider news said that Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan had plans to investigate four large cases apart from that of Bo Xilai, but the plans were staved off by the joint interference of Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin and Zeng Qinghong. Jiang Zemin’s reasons were very straightforward: “Don’t you care about the image of the Party? Do you intend to broadcast to the world the conflicts among all the CCP central leaders, old and new?”

From the Two Sessions in March to August, Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan had a hard time. The anti-graft plans were aborted, and the new administration found it difficult to assert its authority. Eventually, it changed strategy. In the past, the strategy was “pulling the turnip as well as the dirt around it;” the new strategy was similar to the one used to deal with the “nail-households.” That is, turn it into an isolated island by taking out all the houses around it. Between May and August, with lightning speed, senior leaders in Sichuan and Hubei were taken down one by one, and the domestic media reported the relationship between the son of Zhou Yongkang and money launderers. Then the investigation into the petroleum gang was launched, and the new CCP central committee member Jiang Jiemin (蒋洁敏) was removed. Hardly more indication was needed for the public to see who the true target was.

During the Beidaihe enclave (北戴河) in the summer, the overseas Chinese media clamored that a storm was bursting, but those in the know said Zhou Yongkang was also vacationing in Beidaihe. A well-known observer pointed out that, given that Zhou Yongkang started his career in the petroleum industry, was in the posts of the Minister of Land and Resources, the Party Secretary of Sichuan province and the Chairman of Law and Politics of the CCP for ten years, he mostly certainly has secret knowledge about the 9 previous SC members and the current 7 SC members, if not all of the so-called 500 families (or 200 by another version). A breakup with Zhou Yongkang, who has all the secrets in his hands, would completely turn the tables. For Xi Jinping to dismantle the entwined network of Zhou Yongkang, he must have the same resolve with which the Gang of Four was apprehended and with which Mao Zedong eliminated Lin Biao. The day when Xi succeeded in taking down Zhou would be the day he had truly taken control of the Party and consolidated his power.

Why Did Jiang Zemin Rush to Beijing?

From November 9 to 12, the Third Plenum was held that reviewed and adopted The Decision on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Deepening Reforms. It is Xi Jinping’s governance platform for the next ten years, also the first important party literature under his rein. Attendees of the Plenum reported that, instead of the entire body of the Standing Committee, led by the General Secretary, walking up to the presidium, greeted by a standing ovation, this time around, Xi Jinping strode onto the stage first and alone and sat in the middle of the presidium to receive the standing ovation before the other six, led by Li Keqiang, streamed onto the stage and seated themselves on either side of Xi Jinping.

On December 1, Li Zhanshu (栗战书), representing the CCP Central Committee, made an announcement to Zhou Yongkang: that he would cooperate with the investigation into related cases and issues, and he would continue to be addressed as comrade inside the party. The decision was circulated to provincial/ministerial level officials on December 5. During the CCP central committee’s economic work meeting in Beijing from December 10-13, the decision was circulated once again. It means that Zhou Yongkang is restricted in his movement. Former minister of petroleum Tang Ke, not in any way associated with Zhou Yongkang, died on the 5th at the age of 96, his obituary still has not been issued even though the body already has been cremated, because Zhou Yongkang’s name was not allowed to appear in the obituary, nor could Zhou send a flower wreath, lest his fall be made known to the public.

On December 20, the CCDI website announced that Li Dongsheng (李东生), vice minister and  deputy party secretary of public security, and deputy director of the CCP’s leading group on the prevention and handling of cults known as Office 610, was placed under investigation for alleged serious violations of disciplines. People with inside knowledge revealed that Office 610 has been found to have sent materials to Bloomberg News about every standing committee member except for Hu Jintao and Zhou Yongkang. But Bloomberg News only published the story about Xi Jinping’s family because Xi was the leader-in-waiting.

Jiang Zemin, who usually spends the winter in the south, rushed back to Beijing on the 23rd, and on the 24th, the CCP central committee announced that Zhou Yongkang was placed under Shuanggui (party discipline for “under investigation in a designated place and for a designated period”). Observers have different takes as why Jiang Zemin sped to Beijing: 1) He turned around to agree with the decision of taking down Zhou; and 2) He continues to mediate between the two sides.

Indeed, Zhou Yongkang is a much bigger tiger than Bo Xilai, and he’s a threat to everyone and every family of the top crust. It’s said that materials in his possession are stored both domestically and overseas, and his fortune from graft is up to RMB 100 billion. It is also said that the case of General Gu Junshan (谷俊山), long pending without a resolution, also involves as much as RMB 100 billion in graft.

Someone characterized the Zhou Yongkang case as “exemplifying the struggle between the Red Second Generation (红二代) and the Bureaucrat Second Generation (官二代).” For the communist party, this alleged struggle is bound to be a double-edged sword. It is helping to establish Xi Jinping’s authority, but it will also be the most devastating exposure of the extent of the party’s corruption. A number of the Red-Second- Generation has been writing to Xi Jinping to bring his attention to the crony capitalism that has corrupted the party and turned it into “rotten cotton wadding.”

Until Zhou Yongkang’s adherents are purged, the tiger will still have teeth. In 2014, the CCP will undergo another round of power balancing. Zhou Yongkang can be locked up behind bars, or, following the Cheng Weigao (程维高) model, placed in confinement with an announcement of the Party’s disciplinary decision but without a judiciary trial. It’s possible either way.

(Translation of the version originally submitted to Deutsche Welle, by


Gao Yu (高瑜)

Gao Yu (高瑜)

Gao Yu (高瑜) is a Beijing-based independent Chinese journalist and columnist. She used to work for China News (中新社), and later was the deputy editor-in-chief of the Economics Weekly (《经济学周报》). She was twice imprisoned for her participation in the Tian’anmen democratic movement in 1989. Her work has wide influence.


Related reading:

Zhou Yongkang Case Has Nothing to Do with Anti-Corruption Resolve, by Chang Ping


Chinese original

Zhou Yongkang Case Has Nothing to Do with Anti-Corruption Resolve

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 and 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)

Chang Ping (长平)

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

Chinese original

Beijing Observation: Xi Jinping Unsheathes the Shangfang Sword

And points it in two directions.

By Gao Yu, published: September 6, 2013



Gao Yu (高瑜)

Gao Yu (高瑜)

According to Xinhua reports last year and this year, it looks like the CCP’s Beidaihe enclave now has a fixed calendar. Last year, the start of the enclave was marked by the leader-to-be Xi Jinping meeting with experts and grassroots talent vacationing at the seaside retreat on August 4. It ended with then Premier Wen Jiabao leaving for Zhejiang to inspect the province’s economy on August 14. This year’s Beidahe getaway was bracketed by the same dates except that on both ends, it was the party’s propaganda tsar Liu Yunshan (刘云山) who stepped out in the spotlight. On August 4, he met with 60 experts there on behalf of Xi Jinping, and, on the 14th, he presided over the third meeting of the leadership team of the CCP Central Committee’s Mass Line Education and Practice Activities as the team leader.    

Let’s call the eight days, from August 5 to August 13, the Beidaihe Days. Will these eight days decide the fate of China?

Xi Jinping Gears up for the Anti-corruption Campaign with Unanimous Support from the PSC

Sources said that, in Beidaihe this year, Xi Jinping focused on anti-corruption and on specific cases that the Central Committee was preparing. He said that he was determined to stem the malignant spread of corruption and he was severe. Agitated, he stood up from his chair; he flung his physical mass in such a forceful manner that buttons flew off his shirt, leaving his collar wide open with only one button remaining.

Back in Beijing, Xi Jinping continued to give instructions about anti-corruption during the Politburo Standing Committee meeting over which he presided. He said, due to the unique circumstances, Comrade Wang Qishan (王岐山) needs the Shangfang sword (尚方剑)¹ and we should give it to him. We must have guts when it comes to anti-corruption, and we must get to the bottom of it regardless of whom we are investigating. Sources said that Xi Jinping’s proposal has already been adopted in a PSC resolution. On August 27, the Politburo reviewed and approved the “Work Plan to Establish a Comprehensive System of Combating and Preventing Corruption, 2013-2017,” stating once again its determination to root out both “tigers” and “flies.”

Bo Xilai Was Not One of the Big Tigers

From Beidaihe to the routine meeting of the PSC in August, the topic of anti-corruption had been deliberated again and again, but it was not about Bo Xilai, who should have been tried by the previous administration. The Bo Xilai case caused serious internal disagreement and, unable to balance the dueling factions, it had to be solved through the judiciary. Sources said it was the idea of Wang Qishan.

Two weeks before trial, Bo Xilai was allowed to see his case file — “The lawyer read, I hand copied.” This is unprecedented and external to the current laws. According to sources, Bo Xilai, in court, “carried a stack of transparent single-sheet holders and transparent file pouches. Each folder was marked for him to locate the issue at hand as needed during the trial. In China, no suspect has ever been given such privileges and on such a scale to prepare for his or her defense, not even Jiang Qing (江青), who had rejected defense lawyers, nor Chen Xitong (陈希同), nor Chen Liangyu (陈良宇), both members of the Politburo. On August 14, during the meeting before the trial, Bo Xilai insisted, adamantly, that the court exclude, as illegal evidence, the testimony in his own handwriting which he had produced for the previous CCP Disciplinary Committee last July. He made clear then that he was going to retract his testimony and reject certain charges, but no one suppressed or stopped him.

One may say that the five-day trial of Bo Xilai was a showcase of the Chinese judiciary observing procedural justice, but will this become a precedent for every court and every trial across China? The answer is no. Look into the behind-the-scenes bargaining, one can only conclude that Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, both of the “Red Second Generation,” did not see Bo Xilai as a corrupt official as Chen Liangyu or Liu Zhijun (刘志军). Instead, they saw the Bo Xilai trial as a precious opportunity not to be missed, an opportunity for both Bo and for the RSGs in power. If they treated Bo as another corrupt official, they would have wasted this hard-to-come-by opportunity. The five-day trial of Bo Xilai in Jinan Intermediate Court was meant to show it was a civilized, just, open and transparent trial. A person in the know said it was an advertisement to the world. I shall write separately about this advertisement later.

Combating “Tigers” and “Flies” Thwarted at the Beginning

On January 22 this year, Xi Jinping said, during the second meeting of the CCP Central Disciplinary Committee, that “to govern the Party, we cannot dither when it comes to discipline and correction. We must insist on combating both ‘tigers’ and ‘flies.’ We must punish officials who violate discipline and the law; at the same time, we must correct the unhealthy tendencies and solve the corruption problems that affect the masses.” Next, Wang Qishan presented the Central Committee with four large cases. These cases involve one member of the last Standing Committee, two members of the last Politburo, and a former secretary of the Secretariat.

As the new year kicked off, it looked like Xi Jinping wanted to follow Mao Zedong’s footsteps as the state media outlets all of a sudden mentioned Mao’s big gestures when he executed Liu Qingshan (刘青山) and Zhang Zishan (张子善), two CCP officials in Tianjin, for embezzlement and corruption in the early 1950s.

Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan should be given credit for their intentions. If those four cases were approved, the new administration would not have been in as difficult a situation as it is now, earning a reputation of “failing at whatever it endeavors” and “big thunder and small raindrops,” and the anti-corruption campaign would have been off to a good start and Xi’s authority asserted.

Instead the four cases were met with fierce opposition. Hu Jintao was the first one to be agitated. He found Zeng Qinghong (曾庆红), and the two went to Jiang Zemin who at the time was staying in the island residence in the Xishan (西山) retreat for the PSC, formerly occupied by Deng Xiaoping, busy in personnel deployment prior to the Two Sessions, to be held in about a month. Jiang was upset too upon hearing the four names. He summoned Wang Qishan and Xi Jinping to the Western Mountains. Saving face for the president-in-waiting, Jiang Zemin gave Wang Qishan an unsparing upbraiding. He said: What are you doing? Have you considered the Party’s image at all? Do you intend to broadcast to the whole world the conflicts among all the current and former leaders?

So he resorted to the Party’s hidden rule: Protect the Party’s image. In the past, Mao Zedong was never bothered by the image of the Party. He commanded, and the rest of the Party followed him. He persecuted one after another with no regard for such a thing as the Party’s image. Deng Xiaoping wasn’t bothered by it either, removing two party secretaries in a row. Nowadays, there is a baseline of PSC member impunity, but such a baseline was due to the fact that no faction has enough power to single-handedly do in another, and there has to be a power balance among the factions.

Wang and Xi returned, and what came out of their deliberations was, surprisingly, the decision to shelve the “fighting tigers” plan. Of the four persons, one retired and the other three continued to be seated prominently during the Two Sessions in March and continue to be among the top leaders of the country. Xi Jinping will have enough to deal with these three if he wants to. To use an expression of Deng Xiaoping, they have so many braids, like those of a Uighur girl, held in the hands of the CCP Disciplinary Committee and Xi. But will Xi let go of the former PSC member?

The Competition between the “Red Second Generation” and the “Bureaucrat Second Generation” Intensifies

During much of 2012 when preparations for the 18th CCP Congress were made, scandals erupted one after another. Three days after Bo Xilai was sacked, the son of Ling Jihua (令计划, “the butler” of the Party) was killed on March 18 in a car accident on the relief road on the east side of Bao Fu Si Bridge of Beijing’s fourth ring road (四环保福寺桥东辅道) when he was having sex with two Tibetan girls in his Ferrari. Rumors had it that, to help Ling cover the scandal, the then Secretary of the Politics and Law Committee, Zhou Yongkang, reached a political deal with Ling, and the two designed an internal vote to get an idea of who would be the likely members of the next PSC. Of the five candidates, Ling Jihua got himself selected as the third in the vote count.

Everybody says Bo Xilai harbored political ambitions, but what he had done was nothing more than building his achievements in the so-called “Chongqing Model” in order to fight his way back to Beijing. But Ling Jihua, on the other hand, was trying to squeeze into the PSC through political conspiracy and to have a shot at succeeding Xi Jinping down the road. Sources said that a deputy chief of Beijing Public Security reported the minute details of the March 18 scandal to Wang Qishan, former mayor of Beijing, and Wang Qishan then reported it to Jiang Zemin. Jiang summoned Hu Jintao, and the latter knew nothing about it. Ashamed, he removed Ling Jihua.

In November, before the 18th CCP Congress, the Party secretary and chairman of the China National Petroleum Corporation Jiang Jiemin (蒋洁敏), a close associate of Zhou Yongkang, was investigated by the CCP Disciplinary Committee for making large payments to the two injured Tibetan girls, a hot story for overseas media. But during the 18th Party Congress, Jiang Jiemin was still elected as a member of the CCP Central Committee; during the Two Sessions, he was removed from the CNPC and became the director of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council (SASAC). One gets a sense of how twisted each turn of events has been.

In the eyes of the Red Second Generation whose parents fought and won China, technocrats who have climbed to the top, such as Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, are not orthodox, and their descendants can only be called the “Bureaucrat Second Generation.” However, over the last two decades, the BSGs have been appropriating state assets, private assets and land with a vengeance, an important phenomenon in the rapid deterioration of state power. Things happening in a county are connected with people on higher levels in all sorts of ways. Tracing the vines of any major case, you would end up at a PSC member. All of their children are heads of major corporations and billionaires. But the RSGs also want to have a share in the plunder, and some are asking outright for the BSGs to make way for them.

Xi Jinping is determined to stem such rapid weakening of state power, he is determined to change the situation, or else bitterness on the part of the people will shake the regime. Though the four major cases were thwarted before the Two Sessions, the investigations in Sichuan and of the Oil Gang have been moving on. On provincial and ministerial levels, officials have been continuously removed and disciplined in a strategy to besiege as well as strike against the relief force. The Beidaihe enclave re-launched the battle of “fighting tigers,” and the investigation against Jiang Jiemin indeed marked the final phase of the battle.

While the Liu Zhijun trial lasted a mere three and half hours, the Bo Xilai trial went on for five days. Such is the difference. Dramas of fighting tigers will come on stage one after another, but don’t hold your expectations high for the juiciness of the Bo trial, because, for Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, Bo Xilai is not a tiger.

What Did Xi Jinping Say in the Recent National Propaganda Work Meeting?

The national propaganda meeting was held on August 19 and 20. According to a Xinhua report, “Xi Jinping emphasized in a speech that economic construction is a central task of the Party, while ideological work is an extremely important job for the Party.” It is a new posture of Xi Jinping to elevate the place of ideology as a central task of the Party, second only to the economy, a major step that bridges Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Deng Xiaoping deliberately played down ideology, and his age of “stopping argument” comes to an end. Mao Zedong’s method of ruling the country through ideology and class struggle theory is reintroduced to the political life of the CCP and the country.

As of September 1, the People’s Daily has published no fewer than eight commentaries to trumpet this speech of Xi Jinping, and more probably will come. I heard that an internal document about the meeting has been handed down. People who have seen it said that the People’s Daily commentaries were “much harsher” than the Xinhua report.

“From one spot we discern a whole leopard.” An anecdote leaked from the meeting helps us gain a sense of Xi Jinping’s speech. Sources said that, during the propaganda tsar Liu Yunshan’s report on the 19th, Xi Jinping interjected: There is a small number of reactionary intellectuals who, using the Internet, tell rumors, assault, or denigrate the Party’s leadership, the socialist system, and state power, and they must be seriously clamped down upon.

On the same day, “Qin Huohuo” (秦火火) and “Li Er Chai Si” (立二拆四) were criminally detained. The “Rule of Law Evening Paper” (法制晚报) reported that “the detention of these online agitators, who for a long time have been stirring up waves, manufacturing false information, intentionally distorting facts, and creating disturbances, was the first action of public security across the country to crack down on organized online rumormongering and other criminal offenses.” CCTV reported on these arrests on August 21, showing in the background the screenshots of these accounts: “Qin Huohuo defamed patriotic scholars such as Kong Qingdong (孔庆东) and Sima Nan (司马南). Qin Huohuo spread malicious rumors about Mao Zedong and the CCP and at the same time sang the praise of Chiang Kai-shek, Hu Yaobang and the United States.” Despite questions from the Chinese TV audience about such associations, CCTV aired it for two days in a row anyway.

On August 23, Xue Manzi (薛蛮子), a Big V, or celebrity account with a large following, was arrested for soliciting prostitution in Anhui Bei Li, Chaoyang District, Beijing, and Xinhua, the People’s Daily and CCTV were all on board broadcasting the incident repeatedly. CCTV Evening News unprecedentedly showed the prostitute telling details of the solicitation.

Right now police are arresting online “rumormongers” everywhere across the country not without absurdities. A Weibo posting entitled “While Rumors Must Be Quenched, Law Must Be Upheld” by the official Weibo account of the Guangdong Public Security Department was deleted. Compared to the state media’s bombast against constitutionalism and civil society, the clampdown on rumormongering really is not about ideology anymore. It felt like the campaign to “cleanse capitalist spiritual pollution” [in the 1980s]. Luckily, the Chinese will withstand this one as well, having weathered all manners of political campaigns, violent or otherwise.

Shangfang sword (尚方剑)¹: Imperial sword. To give a minister the sword was to authorize him to act on behalf of the emperor without having to obtain prior approval.


Gao Yu (高瑜) is a Beijing-based independent Chinese journalist and columnist. She used to work for China News (中新社), and later she was the deputy editor-in-chief of the Economics Weekly (《经济学周报》). She was twice imprisoned for her participation in the Tian’anmen democratic movement in 1989. Her work has wide influence.

(Translation by, based on a version slightly revised by the author.)

Chinese original

More Citizens Detained in China for Demanding Public Disclosure of Officials’ Personal Wealth

Four activists in Xidan, Beijing, on March 31.

Four activists in Xidan, Beijing, on March 31.

Following earlier detentions in Guangdong and Beijing, on April 27, another ten activists in Xinyu, Jiangxi (江西新余) were taken into police custody for demanding that government officials disclose their assets. Since then, seven of them have been released but Liu Ping (刘萍), Wei Zhongping (魏忠平) and Li Sihua (李思华) are still been held.

According to Beijing-based rights lawyer Li Pingfang, those who were released gave accounts of being slapped in the face, wearing shackles, and being locked in iron cages. They said that the police interrogation focused on their participation in advocating asset disclosure by officials.

For days, Liu Ping’s daughter, a college student, has been visiting the Public Security authorities for the detention notice that, by law, the family is supposed to receive but has never been provided.

From a Weibo post on May 7th by Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠), Liu Ping’s lawyer who teaches law at East China University of Political Science and Law, we learned that Liu Ping has been criminally detained for allegedly “subverting state power.” Mr. Zhang visited the detention center in Xinyu on Tuesday morning, submitted Power of Attorney letter and a request for meeting his client, but his request was declined without an explanation.

He told the local public security authorities that “Liu Ping is merely an ordinary laid-off worker. If she were charged with subversion just because she stated some plain truths out of a sense of justice, it would cause a public outcry, not to mention that it will cast a shadow on the new administration for which people have some expectations.”

Liu Ping

Liu Ping

In 2011, Liu Ping, Wei Zhongping and Li Sihua campaigned in the election of people’s representatives in Xinyu as independent candidates. They were met with all manners of harassment and suppression, including forced disappearance, beatings and other forms of torture, passport confiscation, home searches, and seizure of personal objects.

The recent detentions in Xinyu are part of a wave of arrests across China over recent months. They are aimed at stamping out more visible citizen activism that has been on the rise. On March 31, four Beijing residents unfurled banners demanding that officials publish their assets as the Party has been promising for 30 years. They were taken away by police on the spot and subsequent detained for “illegal assembly.” A video posted on You Tube shows the protest scene in Xidan, a downtown commercial district only a couple of miles from the Tian’anmen Square , and the man who is giving a speech about the need to push for asset disclosure is Yuan Dong (袁冬), a stock brokerage manager and a regular participant in citizen dinner gatherings.

From April 15 to 17, four more Beijing residents, who held the similar demonstrations in other locations in Beijing, were detained on the same charges of “illegal assembly”. Around the same time, it was confirmed that another two were detained for the same reason. That brings the total number of detentions to ten for anti-corruption activism (one of them on bail due to poor health).

The Beijing Ten are: Ding Jiaxi (丁家喜), Zhao Changqing (赵常青), Sun Hanhui (孙含会), Wang Yonghong (王永红), Ma Xinli (马新立), Zhang Baocheng (张宝成), Yuan Dong (袁冬), Hou Xin (侯欣), Li Wei (李蔚), Qi Yueying (齐月英). Brief bios of eight of them can be found here (link in Chinese).

On April 26, a group of lawyers representing some of the detainees issued a statement entitled “No Crime Was Committed to Peacefully Call for Public Disclosure of Officials’ Assets” to appeal for withdrawing the case against the ten citizens.

A decision on whether the first four, detained on March 31, will be formally arrested is due on Wednesday, May 8. If tried, they could face up to five years in prison.

Also in April in Guangdong, several netizens were given 10-20 days of detention for holding signs, or unfurling banners, in public, that promote democracy and human rights, or condemn the dictatorship of the communist party.

One of the activists, Liu Yuandong (刘远东), was formally arrested on April 3, as his wife was notified, but an activist in Guangdong told SRIC that the family has yet to receive the notice of arrest despite repeated requests for it. It is unknown then with what Liu Yuandong has been charged, but relatives and friends said the authorities had been investigating his finance and tax records, likely to trumpet money-related charges against the businessman-turned-dissident.

Readers might wonder why the Chinese government is targeting citizens engaged in anti-corruption activism. Hasn’t Xi Jinping himself been vowing to crackdown on rampant graft inside the party? Dissident intellectuals pointed out that the regime is not afraid of what you say, no matter how strong; however, it is fearful of any form of organization and collective activities, and it has been cracking down harshly on these street demonstrations and also regular dinner gatherings of like-minded citizens known as “same-city dining and getting drunk” (tong cheng fan zui, 同城饭醉).

In Beijing, Shanghai, Zhengzhou, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, there have been reports of security police preventing such parties from occurring by temporarily detaining participants in the police stations, keeping them from leaving home, or making threats. In some cases, security police sat next to the parties watching them.

A recent study of censorship in China, conducted by a team of Harvard scholars, reached similar conclusion: “Censorship is oriented toward attempting to forestall collective activities that are occurring now or may occur in the future—and, as such, seems to clearly expose the government’s intent,” the article says.

Related reading:

Appeal to Immediately Free Seven Citizens Criminally Detained for Calling for Asset Disclosure