Tracking the downfall of one of the most feared men in China.
- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is FP's Asia editor. A Mandarin speaker, he lived in China for seven years before moving to Washington, D.C. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
The most important and confusing story in China right now concerns the probable downfall of Zhou Yongkang, formerly one of the most powerful men in China. The 71-year-old Zhou ran the state security apparatus as a member of the Politburo Standing Committee — the top Communist Party body — from 2007 to 2012, and now the ruling Chinese Communist Party, under General Secretary Xi Jinping, is almost certainly trying to bring him down. Reportedly under house arrest, Zhou hasn’t been seen in public since October, and dozens of people, if not more, affiliated with him have been arrested.
As I wrote on Feb. 24, "Zhou’s case — if there is indeed a case against him — is arguably the most important Chinese corruption investigation in decades, if not in the People’s Republic of China’s 65-year-history. Yet — and here’s the maddeningly opaque part — we can only hypothesize about the what, when, why, and how of ‘the case.’ This murky struggle, playing out behind closed doors throughout China, is inaccessible to those outside China’s elite."
Zhou may be publicly tried, or he may be allowed to wither away under house arrest. But as speculation grows that Zhou’s day of reckoning is nigh, we at Foreign Policy thought regularly posting noteworthy hints of his decline as they appear would help contextualize the mystery surrounding Zhou’s fate.
What: On March 4, Tencent News, owned by the Internet giant, published a video purportedly of the "Wuxi mansion of wealthy Beijing businessman Zhou Bin." The elder Zhou’s only known son, Zhou Bin has been accused by Chinese media of shady business deals and is reportedly cooperating with the investigation against his father. The video, presumably shot by a drone, pans over a stately white compound in a rural Chinese village. The story doesn’t mention Zhou Yongkang’s name, though it links to an article that does.
Why it Matters: Top Chinese officials live shrouded in privacy. Even fallen leaders enjoy a level of privacy for themselves and their families that prevents disgruntled Chinese from tracking them down. During the very public disgracing of former Chongqing Party Chief Bo Xilai in 2012 and 2013, state media was allowed to discuss many of the case’s salacious details — of murder, seduction, and betrayal. But they never published the location of the Chinese home of Bo or his family. The story accompanying the video describes, in great detail, the location of the house: "After driving for a little more than two kilometers, you will see a nearly 2 meters high, 1.5 meters wide brown stone" that marks the village, in which the Zhou compound "is very easy to find."