2012 Anti-Corruption Storm Unfolds in Communist China

“Anti-corruption” has become the number one buzzword in China over the last few weeks. Every day, there are reports about communist officials at various levels being investigated. Led by Xi Jinping, the new regime leadership has promised to deal with corruption among officials. This new round of the anti-corruption campaign has aspects that may lead Chinese people to realize they live in a chaotic society that has almost completely lost its morality.


In a Jungle, No One Feels Secure

Chinese society is like a jungle, where everyone has a fundamental sense of insecurity. This plays out between officials and their associates, between lovers, and even among family members.

Qi Hong, an expert in electronic surveillance devices, has become well-known for detecting and removing eavesdropping and videotaping equipment for officials. He told the Chongqing Evening News that in China’s official circles, surveillance has become common practice. Last year, he removed over 300 devices from officials’ cars, offices, and bedrooms. During the busiest week, he removed over 40 bugs, which had been planted by wives, lovers, colleagues, and competitors.

These people all have different relationships and levels of closeness with officials, so why do they all act like the secret police in the movie “The Lives of Others?”

Each person has their own reasons. Political rivals install surveillance devices to discover their opponents’ hidden flaws or mistakes for use against them. Wives worry that their husbands are being unfaithful, and want to protect their marriages. Eavesdropping on a lover has more complex reasons behind it, with some being suspected as “honeypot” traps with ulterior motives. Even more strange is the fact that some devices are not planted by enemies, but by companions “riding in the same boat,” who want to ensure their common interests are still solid and secure.

This is just one example of the insecurity present in modern Chinese society, ruled by the law of the jungle. Couples do not trust each other, lovers trade sex for power, and interactions between colleagues, accomplices, and others are filled with even more intrigue. Basically, no relationship in society allows one to feel safe.

Online Tip-Offs

In the past, people used to secretly alert either the Anti-Corruption Bureau or the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Even if they leaked the information online, it was rare for someone to reveal their real name. However, a precedent was set in the 2012 anti-corruption storm by Luo Changping, associate editor of the renowned Chinese finance magazine Caijing. On the morning of Dec. 6, Luo posted three messages on his Weibo, China’s Twitter-like service, reporting on Liu Tienan, who holds dual positions as deputy director of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, and secretary of the National Energy Board.

Luo’s Weibo declaration was titled, “Report to the Central Committee for Discipline Inspection, using real name.” It disclosed Liu Tienan’s collusions with businessman Ni Ritao, Liu’s wife Guo Jinghua, who is a county-level cadre, and Lui’s son, Liu Decheng, who also own shares in Ni’s business.

The exposé also unveiled Liu’s falsified education certificate, and information on his mistresses. It also listed overseas bank accounts that Ni’s company and Liu allegedly used to apply for loans from mainland banks, and named HSBC bank accounts in Liu’s son’s name, containing Canadian and U.S. dollar deposits.

There is also evidence that Liu received huge amounts of money from Ni’s company, according to a Caijing report titled, “Chinese-style takeover: A senior official’s and a businessmen’s overseas fraudulent loan scheme.”

In this case, the corruption evidence appeared rather conclusive. However, four hours later, a manager from the Information Office of the National Energy Board, where Liu Tienan holds a position, told the media that everything Luo Changping had said about Liu was “pure slander and rumors.” He said they were contacting departments relating to Internet management and Public Security, and were in the process of filing a case and notifying the police. “We will take legal measures to deal with this matter,” the manager said.

At the time the Weibo message was posted online, Liu Tienan was in Russia, negotiating an energy deal. This created an awkward situation for communist leaders in Beijing because they had to prevent Liu Tienan’s opportunity to escape, however unlikely. And, more importantly, they needed to consider how to deal with Internet anti-corruption reports, since they had just promised to take care of cases reported online.

Trading Sex

The trading of sex has become a constant hot topic in Chinese official circles. Again and again, this phenomenon draws attention to just how low morality has stooped in China.

In recent corruption cases, the case of Lu Yingming, deputy director of the Land and Resources Department in Guangdong, really stands out. Lu’s violations include embezzlement of 2.8 billion yuan (almost US$45 million), ownership of 63 real estate properties, and keeping 47 mistresses. Lu is also a “naked official,” meaning he has sent his family to live overseas to protect them should anything happen to him.

Other high-profile cases include Qi Fang, the Wusu City Public Security Bureau chief, who kept twin sisters as his mistresses, and the 43-year-old village head in Shanxi Province who had four wives and 10 children. Lei Zhengping, a cadre from Chongqing, had his pornographic videos uploaded online by others. Dan Zengde, the deputy director of the Agriculture Department in Shandong Province, had evidence of his many love affairs publicized on the Internet, including his signed commitment to his mistress that he would divorce his wife.

Shocking sex scandals have been made public before, such as the case of “public mistress” Li Wei, Committee Secretary of Quanshan. Another official, Xuzhou Tong Feng, allegedly abused his wife, and also forced her to take photos of bedroom scenes of him with his lover. Xu Qiyiao, the Mayor of Yancheng City, Jiangsu Province, had approximately 100 mistresses, including a mother and her daughter.

The present round of anti-corruption measures mainly focuses on exposing the frequency of such scandals. England’s Telegraph newspaper, for example, published a Dec. 6 article with the headline, “China rocked by five sex scandals in six days.”

Audio-Visual Evidence

Nowadays, the diversity of evidence makes it hard for officials to refute claims against them. In the mid-1990’s, handwritten accusations became typed ones, and in recent years, audio and visual evidence have become increasingly common. The red fingerprint on the signed divorce commitment letter that Dan Zengde gave to his mistress is unusually clear. And the indecent videos of Lei Zhengfu, a Chongqing city official, were no doubt filmed at the scene. Such strong evidence gives these officials no room for denials.

The communist regime used to have a negative attitude toward anti-corruption information coming out online. Though such stories would become hot topics for public debate, they did not really prevent corruption. In 2009, there were only nine verified national Internet anti-corruption cases, according to People’s Daily Online statistics. 2010 and 2011 saw an annual average of less than 10.

However, during the 2012 anti-corruption campaign, authorities have committed to accepting online leads, and as long as there is evidence, they will be investigated. Although only one lead has become an official case so far, the Internet anti-corruption drive is not that easy to control, and decisions are not completely up to authorities. Therefore, the future development and fate of Internet anti-corruption can be used to gauge the commitment of China’s upper level political authorities to fight corruption.

Random Anti-Corruption Sweep

The Chinese idiom, “catching the rabbit that hits the tree,” describes well the randomness of this new campaign.

The various provinces have reacted at different rates to their new leader, Xi Jinping, calling for anti-corruption action. The fastest response came from Guangdong Province, where five department- or bureau-level officials, and one county-level Party secretary have already been arrested.

However, Hunan, Hubei, Inner Mongolia, and many other provinces have made no moves yet, and are probably still watching the situation to see what unfolds. This attitude shows that the Chinese officialdom still sees Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption proposal as “a new official applying strict measures temporarily.” They believe this wind of change will just blow over and fade away, and are not yet thinking of sacrificing a pawn to save a chariot. This relaxed attitude means officials have not yet set constraints on their family members, and some have unfortunately become rabbits that hit the big tree.

Li Yali, the police chief of Taiyuan city in Shanxi Province, became one of these ignorant rabbits when his son Li Zhengyuan was arrested for drunk-driving and assaulting the traffic police who pulled him over.

In this round of the campaign, so far Shanxi Province has only contributed one corrupt village head, accused of being married to multiple wives. Upper authorities there have been worrying about how to find one or two corrupt officials in high positions to “balance things out,” and eagerly looking for cases. Li gave them that opportunity, so they terminated his duties as deputy director of the Shanxi Province Public Security Bureau, and chief of the Taiyuan Public Security Bureau, and made him submit to investigations.

Some overseas media called this anti-corruption sweep “a 100-day plan,” meaning it will be similar to Putin’s 100-day new policy, and Egypt’s Mursi’s 100-day plan, which were all bluff and bluster.

My view is that this round of anti-corruption has only just begun, and the outcome cannot be predicted. What can be said is that Xi Jinping truly wants to fight corruption, because this is the main method to remold the legitimacy of the Communist Party, and gather popular support. However, corruption is rooted in the one-party dictatorship; it has spread far and deep. Therefore, such a campaign is not thorough enough and will not solve the problem at the source. After the campaign ends, and when corruption returns, the effects of using this measure again will be very limited. 

This translation first appeared in the Epoch Times.