Tea Leaf Nation

Zhou Decline Watch: Expanding the Purge?

Tracking the downfall of one of the most feared men in China.


In Chinese, just like in English, there are many gradients of unprecedented. Po Tianhuang, which literally means to "break the scarcity of heaven," is one of the strongest. 

Read more from FP on Zhou Yongkang

Chinese President Xi Jinping is in the midst of what is probably the biggest anti-corruption campaign since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. He is almost certainly going after China’s former security czar Zhou Yongkang — the first time an official who served in the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), China’s top ruling body, has been targeted. Xi is also fighting graft in the military. The case against Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, who was quietly dismissed from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), China’s military, in 2012, may turn into the biggest corruption scandal in PLA history — it is extremely rare for the ruling Chinese Communist Party to publically accuse top Chinese military figures of corruption.

Amidst the unprecedented crackdown, rumors of a new target has begun to float around the Internet: He Guoqiang, formerly China’s top anti-corruption official, who served with Zhou on the PSC from 2007 to 2012. The rumors appear to have started with a corruption probe of Song Lin, the former head of one of China’s most powerful state-owned enterprise, China Resources. "By investigating Song Lin it looks like the leadership has decided to go after He Guoqiang," Hong Kong based anti-corruption activist Li Jianjun told the Financial Times. Song, the FT reported, citing people familiar with the matter and Chinese media reports from outside of China, is "closely associated" with He’s son. Duowei, a New York based Chinese-language news site with a decent record of anticipating Chinese political scandals, claimed in an April 23 story that He’s absence means he may be in trouble. 

It’s important to emphasize allegations of He’s involvement are still at the level of rumor. Like almost all retired Chinese officials, He has kept a low profile — he has not made a public appearance since 2012 –and his absence from the spotlight doesn’t mean he is being investigated. His name could drop from the discussion. But if Xi is really trying to make the case that no one, not even former members of the PSC, are above scrutiny, maybe he thinks breaking just one precedent is not enough. 

Isaac Stone Fish is a journalist and senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on U.S-China Relations. He is on sabbatical from Foreign Policy Magazine. @isaacstonefish

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