Chinese official Huang Qifan holds the distinction of having served as mayor or vice-mayor of China’s southwestern megalopolis of Chongqing across the successive terms of six Communist Party secretaries overseeing the provincial-level municipality.
Last December, Huang was demoted and made to serve as vice-head of a financial committee in the largely powerless National People’s Congress.
On July 10, Huang and six other members of the Three Gorges Construction Committee were removed from this posting as well. Huang still retains his seat in the national legislature.
What likely brought Huang down a notch were his connections to ex-Communist Party Politburo member Bo Xilai, once the Party secretary of Chongqing.
In 2012, Bo Xilai’s head of police, Wang Lijun, defected to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, causing a scandal that dashed Bo’s chances at being chosen to serve in the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee that leads the Communist Party.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who came to power later in 2012 after the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress, quickly moved to purge Bo. His suspended death sentence in 2013, which effectively amounted to life in prison, was the first blow in Xi’s anti-corruption campaign against Bo’s backers—the informal Party faction associated with former leader Jiang Zemin.
Since the beginning of the campaign, state-controlled media say that over 1 million Chinese officials have been disciplined, including hundreds of high-ranking Party cadres. The Jiang faction, which had influence from the 1990s up through the 18th Party Congress, is Xi’s main target in this political endeavor.
Huang’s links to the Jiang faction are apparent. According to China News Service, Huang publicly boasted of his political affinity with Bo Xilai during the high-profile “Two Sessions” political conferences in 2010, claiming that their partnership was “as fish to water.” It was in 2010 that Huang was promoted to mayor of Chongqing and became vice secretary of the municipal committee. Many other titles, like “scholar-official,” “CEO of Chongqing,” or “economic expert” appeared on his resume.
Bo trusted Huang so much that during Wang Lijun incident, Huang was entrusted to negotiate with the U.S. and take Wang back. The mayor deployed 70 police cars and surrounded the U.S. consulate at Bo’s command.
In addition to his work in Chongqing, Huang spent 18 years working in Shanghai, where Jiang Zemin made his own political career and still has some lasting influence.
After Bo Xilai’s downfall, Huang Qifan was not targeted immediately, and to date he has not been placed under investigation, unlike many other Jiang Zemin associates. His current posting in the National People’s Congress is in line with what is common for other officials reaching the ends of their careers.
In the eyes of his supporters, Huang was energetic, erudite, and could speak for hours without referring to script while citing an impressive amount of data, Hong Kong-based HK01 reported. When he was in office, Chongqing experienced rapid economic development. In 2015, Chongqing’s GDP growth was 11 percent, the highest in the country.
But this February, the Communist Party’s disciplinary commission said that upon investigation, Chongqing was found to have problems with corruption in state-owned companies and “residual poison” was still left over from the time of Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun.
Huang’s son, Huang Yi, monopolized the steel reselling business as a middleman for the state-owned Chongqing Iron and Steel Company. Huang Yi imported iron ore from Australia and resold to the company, taking a high commission for boosting employment. By the time Huang left Chongqing in 2016, the company had become known as the city’s largest “zombie firm.” It was sustained by government subsidy and had incurred losses of 13.2 billion yuan ($1.94 billion) over five years.
Recent removal from the Three Gorges Construction committee also comes at a politically sensitive time: the 19th Party Congress coming up later this year provides the Xi administration with an opportunity to appoint and change personnel, and further sideline political opponents from positions of influence.
Huang may have seen this coming. After Bo Xilai’s downfall, Huang was quick to denounce his former ally, declaring that he would “firmly support all actions of the central authorities” and calling for “consideration of the overall situation.” Huang also claims that he was familiar with Bo’s aspirations for national leadership.