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The Four Forces of China’s Politics of Smog

By Wu Qiang, published: March 15, 2014

Look beyond Chai Jing’s film.


In a time when opinion leaders, known as the “big verified accounts” or Big Vs,  in China have been razed or driven away, who would have thought that one of them would re-activate the topic of smog with an eye-opening combination of a TED-like presentation and documentary interviews. Everything about Chai Jing’s film Under the Dome, from millions of views within two days, to the heated national debate, from the government’s initial encouragement to its subsequent censorship, indicates that it is a carefully-planned New Media event, and its purpose is to cause a small tsunami in the traditional arena of politics in order to establish a new framework for the politics of dealing with pollution.

For now, let’s leave alone the dramatic reverse of the Party’s propaganda department. More likely than not, its shutting down the film is due to the party’s fear of losing control over the boisterous online chattering. Let’s also refrain from speculating on Chai Jing’s motivation. She explains it away as her “private grievance against smog,” which is a sentimental, apolitical pretense that Big Vs like to sport these days when speaking to the public, but few would take it at face value. On the other hand, the film will effectively mobilize the public if everyone becomes aware of his or her self-interest in all of this. The question then is: who is directing this mobilization? My focus is not on Chai Jing’s role, whether she’s addressing a personal concern or acting as someone’s white gloves. Instead, let’s read into the film and identify the forces that drive China’s politics of smog.

The first force comes from the U. S. When Xi Jinping talked about blue sky during the APEC meeting last November, we should have known that the short-lived APEC Blue would turn out to mean a lot. President Obama and President Xi Jinping reached a deal in which China promised to reduce carbon emission by 20% by 2030. The deal was almost the sole instance of progress the Obama administration has made in the US-China relation at a time when the relationship is becoming more difficult. During the Clinton administration, the Most Favored Nation Trade Status was the issue that bound the relationship. During the Bush administration, the bond was war on terrorism. Now that these bonds have gone, the emission promise is becoming the new bond that keeps the two countries in a cooperative relationship in which they clash often but not break up. The deal is also one of the few gestures China makes to the United States and to the world that it is a responsible power and that it recognizes the international rules. Furthermore, smog is not just an internal affair of China. Carbon emission is a menace to the atmosphere and has long been a global issue, and the Chinese government can ill afford not to address the international concerns.

In fact, it was the U. S. embassy that had popularized the concept of PM2.5 in China. As another conservative country in the UN Climate Change Conference, the U. S. needs to work with China, an even more conservative country in the Conference. Smog therefore is a shared strategic topic for both countries, and it serves the political agenda of China’s new leaders. But of course they do not want to draw attention to the American factor of it. Instead, it is portrayed as President Xi’s concern for blue sky and as a part of his China Dream narrative. I’m sure Chai Jing’s team had a clear grasp of this opportunity, or, they might even have received hints as well as funding for the film. If so, the film is not a conspiracy as many suggested; rather, it is an explicit plan.

The second force is the collapse of the coal and oil alliance in China. In the early 20th century, Germany had an important conservative force known as the alliance of steel and rye. “Steel” refers to the steel monopoly led by the Krupp family, “rye” refers to the Prussian Junker landowners, and the alliance led to militarism and the rise of the Nazi party. Over the last decade or so, there existed in China a similar political alliance – the alliance of coal and petroleum, that has supplied most of China’s fuel. “Coal,” represented by the so-called “West-hill” faction (西山派), consisted of powerful officials and big coal mine owners in Shanxi, the coal-rich province. “Oil” is represented by executives of China National Petroleum Corporation, the biggest of the three large state-owned petroleum companies, and the party’s “politics and law” system controlled by Zhou Yongkang, the party’s former chairman of Politics and Law Committee, and his network of oil industry officials.

The two interest groups were formed during Jiang Zemin’s rein, a time marked by those in power making money quietly. They completed their slicing of the pie during the decade of “collective leadership” of the Politburo, and formed a political alliance to compete for the supreme leadership in China. But in 2014, they were politically struck down one after another. Of course the price drop in coal and oil diminished the profit, on which these two interest groups depended, lending a helping hand to the new leaders, so did the international pressure on China to deal with air pollution, the internal struggle, and the need to grow clean energy industries. Only now are Big Vs like Chai Jing able to raise direct questions about these groups, in what feels like a trial on Ling Jihua and Zhou Yongkang without their presence. Compared to the struggle to deal with “Tieben” (铁本) during Wen Jiabao’ time in 2004, the new leaders have been impressive. What remains, such as the zombie steel industry in Hebei, if the government could shut it down for a month during the APEC, it’s only a matter of time before it will be bankrupt. Everything will have to be subjected to the need to have blue sky in the so-called Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei economic region.

This is the small “domestic climate” of the smog era, while new energy in the developed countries, the myth of shale oil, OPEC’s refusal to limit production, and the UN climate change conferences together constitute the big “international climate.” Taking into consideration the direct pressure on the Chinese fossil fuel industries from American climate change politics, the collapse of the coal-oil alliance, marked by the fall of Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang and their failed attempt to stage a coup, is quite like a 2014 version of Lin Biao’s escape and subsequent death before Nixon’s China visit in 1972.

The third force is the power expansion of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP). Throughout, the documentary gives voices to environmental protection organs, to their complaints about problems with environmental assessments, product standards and law enforcement power, etc. Chai Jing is like a spokesperson for MEP, making use of the smog to lobby her audience. If we look back at the protest against the Nu (Salween) River dam, one will have to admire the MEP. Among all of the ministry-level agencies, the MEP knows best how to leverage NGOs and Big Vs against local powers and utilize China’s environmental crisis to expand the agency’s own power, including upgrading the agency from bureau level to ministry level.

What we can expect next is the further expansion of the MEP. It is not bad in itself. New power will rise as coal-oil alliance falls. We can expect the increased binding power of environmental impact assessments, and the MEP being given decisive power in setting product standards and emission standards. It is also possible that the MEP will be given law enforcement authority for the first time, for example, the authority of forced inspection, search, sequestration, fines, recall and closure. We shouldn’t be surprised if in the future the MEP establishes its own environmental police force and environmental procureratorate, similar to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the United States, that merges the existing forest police force and fisheries regulatory body to form a new environmental law enforcement power. After all, the power redistribution and institutional reconstruction these changes bring is in line with the increasing trend of power concentration since Xi Jinping took power. It can also be put under the banner of “comprehensively deepening reform,” providing Chinese leaders with concrete evidence to show to the world that China is taking measures to reduce emission.

The fourth force is the public. The phrase “breathing the same air, sharing the same destiny” is effective social mobilization and can unleash the potential of a large scale environmental movement. Back in 2013 when northern China was cloaked in smog for extended periods of time, people felt compelled to do something. They had never felt so viscerally and so acutely, as they did during those days as their cities were shrouded in smog, the incompetence of the government, the anti-societal nature of capital monopoly, and the detrimental impact of China’s growth model on nature. The public’s environmental awareness has never been as strong as it is today. When facing repression, people may choose to remain silent about the smog problem or simply emigrate, but their discontent can manifest in other ways and can accumulate to become a time bomb for the Party-state. As face masks people wear everyday render surveillance cameras meaningless, the security organs are said to be very uneasy, fearing that the situation can spin out of control and lead to a smog revolution.

A man in Hangzhou wearing a mask with the Chinese character 忍 (to put up with). Online photo.

A man in Hangzhou wearing a mask with the Chinese character 忍 (to put up with). Online photo.

The numbers vary, but it must have taken the censorship apparatus by surprise when at least 30 million people watched the documentary and shared their opinions in the first hours of its premiering. This was almost an inconceivable happening, given the constrained state of the internet in China following “cleanups” against Big Vs. I tend to believe that Chai Jing’s documentary is a product of Xi Jinping’s “blue sky policy” and his New Media tactics, and that the propaganda department’s censorship is a cool-off decision to prevent further agitation of public opinion. It is the people who gave the film momentum and whom the propaganda department fears the most. Therefore, people are the most powerful actors in the politics of smog. As the main constituents of Xi Jinping’s blueprint for a “moderately prosperous society,” they could be trained to adhere to traditional cultural norms and appeased by the promise of blue sky. But they have potentials; many opportunities exist when they can wake up, turning from passive viewers to the main player of the politics of smog, making their voices heard, and tearing open the illusion that they are living in a comfortable and prosperous society.

These four forces, the international pressure, the outgoing coal-oil alliance, the ambitious technocrats in the MEP and the state reform organs, and the hitherto dormant citizens, are the four main roles in China’s politics of smog. Big Vs like Chai Jing are merely the agents of one or two forces. They themselves are not important. What is important is the timing and the framework.

Therefore, there is no better timing than 2015. The coal-oil alliance has gone bankrupt and can be made the chief culprit of the smog. And Xi Jinping’s “four comprehensives” (comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society, comprehensively deepen reform, comprehensively govern the country according to the law, and comprehensively apply strictness in governing the party) provides a good framework. The four forces appeared in Chai Jing’s documentary as the protagonist, the antagonist and the people it appeals to, each corresponding to an aspect of Xi’s governing framework, although the role of the U.S. and the international community is deliberately downplayed and citizens’ actions de-politicized. Regardless, we have to admire the film’s accurate presentation of China’s politics of smog.



Wu Qiang (吴强)

Wu Qiang (吴强)

Wu Qiang (吴强) is a political science professor at Tsinghua University.



Under the China Dome – A Reality Check, by Yaxue Cao, March 9, 2015.

Smog as a Political Analogy, by Chang Ping, March 4, 2015.

Amidst the Smog, I Hear the Bugle Call for a National Environmental Movement, by Wu Qiang, February 22, 2014.



(Translated by Yaqiu Wang and Yaxue Cao)

An abbreviated version of the Chinese original was posted here.


Save Gao Zhisheng

By Yaxue Cao, published: August 15, 2014

Gao Zhisheng during his brief reappearance in April 2010.

Gao Zhisheng during his brief reappearance in April 2010.

Few Americans know Gao Zhisheng. He was a Chinese lawyer who ran a successful practice, until his insistence on the law being respected pitted him against reality in China where rule of law is no more than a stage prop, and the legal system itself, doing the bidding of the Communist Party, tramples the law underfoot.

Gao represented business owners whose properties were forcibly expropriated by the state, farmers whose land was taken and homes demolished illegally, victimized workers, and house church Christians. Victims of injustice from all over China thronged to his office in Beijing. When he couldn’t win cases for his downtrodden clients in a system where power overrides the law, he fed and clothed them. He was among China’s first human rights lawyers, ushering in the rights defense movement in the early 2000s.

When representing Falun Gong practitioners, the scale and cruelty of abuse shook him to the core. Late in 2005, he wrote three open letters to then Chinese leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, based on “faith in the basic humanity of the two senior men,” demanding a stop to “crimes against civilized society” that he detailed.

On the heels of the first letter plainclothes police in unmarked cars appeared outside his apartment, watching his every movement, 24/7. He and his family were harassed and threatened. In September 2006, he wrote a letter to the U. S. Congress detailing China’s human rights conditions, and voicing his objection to China hosting the Olympics. Shortly afterward he was kidnapped and put through torture that included electric shocks, being urinated on, and having his genitals pierced with toothpicks. His account of this torment, titled Dark Night, Dark Hood, and Kidnapping by the Dark Mafia, tests our confidence in humanity.

Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) in his law office in Beijing prior to 2006.

Gao Zhisheng (高智晟) in his law office in Beijing prior to 2006.

In December 2006, Gao Zhisheng was sentenced to three years in prison with five years of probation and one year of deprivation of political rights, for “inciting to subvert state power.” On December 16, 2011, five days before his probation was due to expire, Chinese authorities put him in prison for “repeatedly violating the probation rules.” This is despite the fact that, for much of the five years, he was “missing”—or as everyone understood, in the extralegal custody of Chinese security forces.

Gao Zhisheng was released on the 7th of this month to the company of his relatives, along with government minders. After eight years of torture, disappearances and prison, at age 50, he is in poor health, and has trouble eating solid food and communicating. New details issued by his wife paint a grim picture: in prison, he was placed in solitary confinement and fed little. Now out of prison, he is still under heavy guard and has not been allowed medical care. According to Chinese law, he is a free citizen and should enjoy the right to speak to whom he wants and to go where he wants, despite the continued one year deprivation of “political rights.”

We don’t know when or whether Gao Zhisheng will be truly free, but we have every reason to fear the worst.

Gao’s was a “top case” during Zhou Yongkang’s tenure as chief of the party’s Politics and Law Commission. Now that Zhou has been taken down on corruption charges, the world is waiting to see whether Xi Jinping will deal with Gao Zhisheng any differently.

Gao placed great confidence in the U. S. as the shining beacon of freedom. He read Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 when surrounded by Chinese secret police and quoted F. D. R.  in his letter to Congress.

Since his release the State Department has urged China to allow Gao to, if he so chooses, come to the United States to be reunited with his  wife and two children, who fled China in 2009. Congressman Chris Smith has made a similar public call. However, in the coming days and months, more concrete steps must be taken to secure freedom for Gao Zhisheng, one of China’s most courageous sons. President Obama should raise the issue directly with Xi Jinping at the APEC meeting in Beijing in November.

It is not just about saving one man; it is about preserving an ideal, a trust, and a future.


Yaxue Cao is the founder and editor of



Chronology of Gao Zhisheng by Human Rights Watch, updated on July 31, 2014

Dark Night, Dark Hood, and Kidnapping by the Dark Mafia, Gao Zhisheng’s account of his torment in 2007.

Gao Zhisheng, Missing Chinese Lawyer, Described Torture Before Disappearing, AP, January 2011.

Legal Gadfly Bites Hard, and Beijing Slaps Him, by Joseph Kahn, New York Times’ profile in 2005.

On the Eve of Gao Zhisheng’s Release, by Yaxue Cao

U. S. State Department urges China to allow Gao Zhisheng to reunite with family if he so wishes, August 7, 2014

Congressman Chris Smith: Chinese Human Rights Defender Gao Should be Free to Leave China

A sampling of media reports since August 7, 2014: The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, AP, AFP, Telegraph.


Three ways to watch Transcending Fear, an extraordinary documentary about Gao Zhisheng (in English and Chinese): 

On the Eve of Gao Zhisheng’s Release

By Yaxue Cao, published: August 4, 2014


Entering late fall of 2011, the name of Gao Zhisheng appeared more and more frequently on my Twitter timeline. Entering December, the wait for Gao Zhisheng had become anxious. Among the daily news about arrests, torture, labor camps, and political prisoners, the fate of Gao Zhisheng was the most heart wrenching. Five years ago on December 21, 2006, Beijing First Intermediary People’s Court convicted Gao Zhisheng of “inciting to subvert state power” and sentenced him to three years in prison with a five-year probation and deprivation of political rights for one year. But for much of the five years, Gao Zhisheng had been “missing” and subjected to horrendous torture as we learned from his account. On December 20 of that year, he would have served the probation and was due to be free. People hoped to see him emerging before the world, alive and free at last.

Lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟)

Lawyer Gao Zhisheng (高智晟). Click to enlarge.

At the time no one knew his whereabouts and whether he was alive or dead. Rumor had it that he had died, other rumors said that he was still alive and had been spotted in Inner Mongolia. The last time his relatives heard anything at all about him from the Chinese authorities was in early 2010 when his older brother, a farmer from the impoverished countryside of Shaanxi, made a trip to Beijing to inquiry about him. That Gao Zhisheng had “gone missing” while out on a walk last September was what the Beijing police told him. Gao Zhisheng’s wife and two children had already fled to the U. S. in 2009.  The last time he appeared was in April, 2010, when he gave an interview to the Associated Press, and the interview was published shortly before Hu Jintao’s American visit on January, 2011.

Those who had read Dark Night, Dark Hood, and Kidnapping by the Dark Mafia were probably anguished at  the likelihood of Gao being dead. I knew I was. “Around 8 p.m. on September 21, 2007 the authorities notified me orally that I should go for a mind re-education (reform) talk,” Gao Zhisheng’s account of more than 50 days of torture in 2007, began. “when I turned a corner, about six or seven strangers started walking towards me. I suddenly felt a strong blow to the back of my neck and fell face down on the ground. Someone yanked my hair and a black hood was pulled over my head immediately. I was brought to a vehicle and was put in it. Although I couldn’t see, it seemed to me that it had two benches with a space in the middle. I was put in the space in the middle on the floor. My right cheek was on the ground. All of a sudden a boot was put on my face holding me down.”

The text that followed is difficult to read — it crushes our minimal confidence in human beings.

“Wang yelled again, and someone kicked me in the back of my legs, and I collapsed to the floor. The big guy continued to pull my hair and forced me to lift my head to see Wang. At this time, I could see that there were five people in the room. Four of the men were holding electric prods, and one was holding my belt.”

“Wang then said, ‘Come on guys, deliver the second course!’ Then, the electric shock baton was put all over me. And my full body, my heart, lungs and muscles began jumping under my skin uncontrollably. I was writhing on the ground in pain, trying to crawl away. Wang then shocked me in my genitals. My begging them to stop only resulted in laughing and more unbelievable torture.”

“The two left in the room, put a chair in the middle of the room and pulled me up and setme in the chair. One of them had five cigarette butts in his mouth. One man stood behind me and the man with the cigarettes was in front. The man behind grabbed my hair and pulled my head forward and down. The other man used the cigarettes to fill my nose and eyes with smoke over and over. …… After a while I didn’t have any feeling except for some tears dropping on my legs.”

“‘You wrote that letter to American congressmen. Look at you, you traitor. What could you be given by your American lord? The American Congress counts for nothing. This is China. It is the Communist Party’s territory. To capture your life is as easy as stepping on an ant. If you dare to continue to write your stupid articles, the government has to make its attitude clear. Now, did you see that attitude tonight?’ Jiang spoke slowly.”

“‘You are correct, we torture Falun Gong. Everything is right. The 12 courses we’re going to give to you were practiced on the Falun Gong, to tell you the truth. I am not afraid of you if you continue to write. We can torture you to death without your body being found. ……You stinking man from the province, what makes you think you can make a scene in Beijing?” [translation modified for precision]

“I was lying down on the cold floor naked. I felt several times someone come and open my eyes and shine a flashlight in them to see if I was still alive. When I would come to, I smelled the strong odor of rank urine. My face, nose, and hair were filled with the smell. Obviously, but I don’t know when, someone urinated on my face and my head.”

“Three batons began shocking me. I was crawling all over trying to get away still naked. After more than 10 minutes, I was shaking uncontrollably again. I begged them. ‘I didn’t have an affair. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you.’ I heard my voice was quivering. “Are you becoming a fool? Let’s use the baton to light you and see if you start talking.” (Gao’s torturers demanded him to tell them about lascivious encounters with women) Then two people stretched out my arms and pinned them to the ground. They used toothpicks to pierce my genitals. I can’t use any language to describe the helplessness, pain, and despair that I felt then.”

“After the 12th and 13th day of my kidnapping, and when I could again partially open my eyes, I saw my body was in a horrifying condition. Not a single square centimeter of my kin was normal. It was bruised and damaged over every part.”

“From then on the physical torture stopped, but emotional torture continued. I was told the 17th Communist Party Congress was starting and that I had to wait for the higher authorities’ opinions about my case. During that time some officials came to visit my cell. Their attitude was softer, and I was also allowed to wash my face and brush my teeth. Some officials proposed to me to use my writing skills to condemn the Falun Gong instead, and that I could charge whatever I wanted for doing that. I said it is not a technical problem but an ethical problem. ‘So,’ they proposed, ‘if that is too hard, then write articles praising the government, and again charge whatever you want.’ ”

“Whenever I was at the point of starving, they would bring up “mantou” (steamed bread) and offer it to me. If I would sing one of the three famous revolutionary Communist party songs I could have some bread. My deepest desire was that I wanted to live until that was no longer possible. My death would be torturous for my wife and children.”

This wasn’t all. “During these more than 50 days, more horrible evils were committed than I told here,” and as brave as Gao Zhisheng is, he couldn’t bring himself to describe them. But careful readers would get the hints.

In the end, they forced Gao Zhisheng to state and sign that “the government didn’t kidnap and torture me and that they treated my family well.”

I quoted this difficult text paragraph after paragraph precisely because it is difficult. Because it is difficult, I feel we need to read it and read it again, and again. We need to plant Gao Zhisheng’s suffering and the acts of his torturers into the deepest recess of our memories.

For any China watcher, wherever your interest falls, I believe you need to possess this memory, because you and me, we are humans before we are anything else.

In December 2011, those around the world who were concerned about lawyer Gao Zhisheng did not receive the good news they had been hoping for. On December 16, five days before Gao Zhisheng’s probation expired and he was due to be free, the Chinese state media Xinhua News Agency issued the news, curiously in English only, that Gao Zhisheng’s probation was withdrawn and he had been “put back in prison” for “repeatedly violating the probation rules.”

I still remember that day distinctly. My heart wrenched and knotted in anger and pain. At the time I was just beginning to get a picture of persecution of dissent in the post-1989 years and since my leaving the country in 1991. The experiences of Gao Zhisheng, Chen Guangcheng, Liu Xianbin, Guo Feixiong, Ai Weiwei, and many victims of the non-existent Jasmine Revolution only confirmed my understanding of the Communist regime in China. It is a knowledge that grows in my body. I know their logic, their viciousness, their mentality and their impulses, as precisely as I know when I want to eat and when I want to sleep.

The decision the Chinese government made five days before Gao Zhisheng’s probation was due to expire was merely another self-affirmation of its baseness and injustice. I was so angry, I felt I could kill someone. Of course I wouldn’t, but the world has been witnessing eruptions of violence in China in search of justice, and it is only going to worsen.

Today we are again waiting anxiously for the return of Gao Zhisheng. Gao Zhisheng spent the last two years and eight months in Shaya (Xayar) Prison in the heart of  Taklamakan Desert. His relatives visited three times. The first time, in January 2012, they were rejected by the prison because Gao Zhisheng “had not completed his three-month education period.” Second time, in March 24, 2012, Gao Zhisheng’s older brother Gao Zhiyi and his father-in-law was permitted to meet him for half an hour with a glass partition, on the condition that they did not provide any information to the media and during the meeting they might talk about nothing but family affairs. In August 2012, two Beijing-based lawyers, Li Xiongbing (黎雄兵) and Li Subing (李苏滨) travelled a long way to Shaya but were denied meeting with Gao.

In January 2013, the family met Gao Zhisheng the second time, and has not been allowed to meet him again since. Please note the date: it was shortly after Xi Jinping took power.  In late 2012, shortly before the CCP’s 18th Congress that would crown Xi Jinping, Gao Zhisheng’s older brother received a letter supposedly from Gao Zhisheng with, supposedly, Gao’s fingerprint, saying that he did not want relatives to visit him again.

No one believed that the long-suffering and prison-bound Gao Zhisheng did not want to see his family, but it’s clear to everyone that the Communist Party in China, no matter who was at its helm, did not want to the world to hear and talk about Gao Zhisheng.

Gao Zhisheng is due to be free in less than three days. When his older brother called the prison days ago, he was told not to come to Shaya to receive Gao and the prison needed to hear instructions from Beijing. On August 1st, having heard no word from the prison, Gao Zhiyi once again set out for Shaya. He traveled from his hometown in Jia county, directly north of Xi Jinping’s ancestral home in Fuping in Shaanxi, to Yulin city, then to the provincial capital Xi’an. In Xi’an, he rode a train to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, there he transferred to a long-distance bus that would travel more than 800 kilometers to Shaya in the Aksu Prefecture mid-western Xinjiang. The total journey, some 3,400 kilometers or about 2,100 miles, takes three days and three nights. The Chinese government does not think it owes the family a notice. We don’t know whether Gao Zhiyi will be able to pick up Gao Zhisheng. We don’t know what news August 7th will bring us. Suppose Gao Zhisheng is freed without incident, we don’t know what awaits him.

In the face of evil perpetrated by the CCP, once again, we seem to be helpless besides being angry and anxious.

The persecution of Gao Zhisheng was a “major case” during Zhou Yongkang’s reign as the secretary of the CCP’s Law and Politics Committee. As it happens, the world is in the midst of cheering the downfall of Zhou Yongkang. Too many are too ready to put the halo of “reform” around Zhou’s fall. Media , TV and Internet, Chinese and English, is taking stock, with gusto, how big a fortune the Zhou clan has amassed, how many women he has bedded, and how intricate his web of connections are. Only a few are pointing out Zhou’s crimes against humanity, having thoughts of those whose lives have been destroyed, and asking what system would allow corruption and crimes to grow to be so monstrous and what a price the Chinese people are paying for them.

Too many seem to have determined not to see the obvious: What Xi Jinping removed is Zhou Yongkang, not the soil that breeds vices. Zhou Yongkang might be gone, but Zhou Yongkang’s practices remain intact and continue, because they are the party’s chosen practices to begin with. Xi Jinping, since his ascent to the party’s and country’s leadership, has crushed dissent, protest and expression harder than his predecessors. In this, Xi Jinping and Zhou Yongkang are brothers from the same parentage.

To the party, Gao Zhisheng is an inconvenience that needs to be covered up or eliminated, because he was the man who stood up and said no, and because he went down to the pit of darkness and witnessed the evil.

In anguish, we await the return of Gao Zhisheng. When in peace, I am an agnostic, but when thinking of Gao Zhisheng, I pray to a god I don’t know: Please bring back Gao Zhisheng, deliver him to us, and deliver him to the arms of his loved ones.




Dark Night, Dark Hood, and Kidnapping by the Dark Mafia, by Gao Zhisheng

Gao Zhisheng,  That “Radical” Lawyer, by  Chang Ping

For a biography of Gao Zhisheng, read New York Times’ profile in 2005.

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

The Coup, 2

By Yaxue Cao

Okay, where were we?

In Edition 1, the sleek, smart-looking British gent was nowhere on the scene yet, but we now know that he was seen pinching the behind of Gu Kailai (谷开来), wife of the newly-deposed Communist leader Bo Xilai, ten years ago in a southern town of England, and that he was found dead on Ms. Gu’s birthday in a hotel room in the southwest city of Chongqing, China. Quite a span however you look at it.

If you are like me, tired, sleep-deprived, and dozing off during much of the show, I suggest you sleep through it altogether lest you get drowned by a deluge of facts and rumors, but mostly rumors, swooshing down on you when you wake up in the middle of it:

Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang (周永康) planned to unseat Xi Jinping (习近平) in 2014, if they couldn’t get it done sooner.

On the night of March 19, the Armed Police Force under the direction of Zhou Yongkang surrounded Zhong-nan-hai (中南海, headquarters of China’s leaders) but were “driven away” by the elite security force inside.

Thirty-six people were apprehended and locked up in Beidaihe (北戴河, a beach resort northeast of Beijing), including a billionaire from Dalian associated with Bo.

The couple didn’t just kill one person; they killed four….not including a TV hostess who was said to have had an affair with Bo before she was disappeared…

“Sex, Lies, and Political Intrigues”, the headline of a Chinese overseas media reads.

But “Political reform is on its way!”, cheered the owner of a bookstore frequented by liberal opinion leaders. “The Central Committee has agreed on the Premier’s call for reform, and June Fourth is going to be redressed!”

Sure, it must be imminent if the edict we have been looking forward to for nearly a quarter century has passed down, already, to a mangy bookstore. Already, I am beginning to sorely miss my sense of Kafkaesque neverness….

What else?

Bo Guagua, the twenty-four-year-old son of Bo, was seen leaving his upscale apartment building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a besuited man wearing a badge, but both the police and the FBI denied of having anything to do with it. Some reports said he was spotted in New York, others said he was taken back to China. And not to be left out, the State Department said he was still in Harvard….

Oh, Ms. Gu Kailai is dying from bone cancer, according to an English paper in Hong Kong. She has probably only a year or two to live, and the disease has made her erratic, flirty and “promiscuous.” Hmmmmm.

“Zhou Yongkang is in trouble!”

“Or is he?”

“Zhou Yongkang is the next!” The clamoring persists.

That would be a turn of events that I will be genuinely happy about. Zhou and the Committee of Politics and Law (政法委) he leads, is the source of evil in China that’s behind all the torture, disappearances and heavy sentences for dissidents.

From all directions, all sorts of people are feeding the media, not because they have information (they may) to give, but because they are motivated to say one thing or another. I perked up from my doze when I heard Reuters quoting “a source close to the investigation.” To my ears, it rings shrilly, “Beware!”

To be sure, the show will duly come to an end, and we will be informed of the “findings,” hopefully soon because it is everyone’s belief that the Party doesn’t want to drag it out for too long. But prepare yourself for a report similar to that of the high-speed train accident last year: It will be all about how it would best serve the Party, not the truth.

Case in point: While we haven’t heard anything about a trial, let alone a verdict from the court, the People’s Daily is declaring, on April 18, that Gu is guilty of killing Heywood and, more importantly, “the criminal case shall not be interpreted as a political struggle.”

Of course not, except that, for days on, every branch of the government, everyone who matters at all, has been solemnly pledging their loyalty to Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) and the Party’s Central Committee in headlines that remind us of a bygone era.

How can you expect easy truth when it took multiple groups of foreign journalists and several tries just to identify the hotel where Heywood was found dead?

How can you trust the Chinese authorities when the state-owned media, perversely, insist on calling the dead man 伍德 (Wood) when his name is 海伍德 (Heywood)?

But thanks to him (sorry about your death, but you shouldn’t have fooled around with those people), the CCP can’t put a lid on the whole thing and zip it up. When was the last time you saw foreign media poring over a Chinese case on an O. J. Simpsonian scale?  I am hopeful as long as they are digging, even if some of them are merely regurgitating rumors off the Chinese Weibos.

I don’t know exactly what I am hoping for. But that’s precisely why I am hopeful: From this crack that the CCP can’t control and can’t seal, something might be pried open that would cause a chain reaction that would lead to another thing, and still another thing….

Columbus went out to look for the East Indies, but instead, he found the New World. You get the idea. I am excited about the possibilities.

So, foreign journalists, keep it up! The British journalists in particular! Give me a new world, or, at least do proud your Willy Shakes (@IAM_SHAKESPEARE)!