An investigative feature article published prominently in a major Chinese business publication has captured the attention of China’s Internet users, with the widespread assumption that the target of the story is none other than the son of Zhou Yongkang, a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, and the retired boss of the Party’s extensive security apparatus.
Feeding that idea is the fact that Zhou has been at the center of a series of investigations into key areas in which he has worked and established political networks, including the oil sector and the energy-rich province of Sichuan.
Xi Jinping, the new Party leader, has been engaged in a cleansing of the ranks campaign since he assumed power last November. Zhou Yongkang is the part of the old guard that Xi is thought to be targeting.
The article in Caixin Online, the Chinese business magazine, refers to Zhou Bin, his wife Huang Wan, and their family. The article was published in English at the same time, titled “As Zhou Bin Returns to China, Details of Life in U.S. Emerge.” The article was later deleted from Caixin’s website.
The article never spelled out the relationship between Zhou Bin and Zhou Yongkang. But Zhou Bin is the name of Zhou Yongkang’s son, and the widespread assumption is that the target of the report is none other than Zhou Bin — the son. In turn, Zhou Bin’s wife’s name is Wang Wan, an apparent cognate of Huang Wan.
“The names sound so similar, but they only use different characters. Wang and Huang are so close, and Zhou Bin in English is spelled the same. People know who it’s obviously pointing to,” said Heng He, a political commentator with the Chinese-language television network NTD Television. Heng He also remarked that it is uncommon for Caixin to simultaneously publish the English version of articles, unless they’re considered important.
“In China, Internet censorship is very strict, especially on topics like this. If such obviously sensitive things are published, it’s clear that this is the purpose of the article,” he said. It would be too direct and open to simply use the correct Chinese characters for the individuals, Heng He said. In communist Chinese politics, it is enough to simply allude to what is meant.
Little of the commentary in response to the article indicated an ignorance of the political context and the likely targets of the piece. Most of the 300 comments at the end of Caixin’s article referred to Zhou Yongkang.
“Xie Wen” said: “Tiger Zhou’s [i.e. Zhou Yongkang] in-law family is revealed.”
“Xian County Official” remarked: “Is Zhou Bin the son of master Kang [i.e. Zhou Yongkang]?”
In the report, Zhou Bin is identified as the former chairman of Beijing-based Zhongxu Yangguang Energy and Technology Ltd. Corp, currently involved in a legal storm. The company’s founder, Wu Bing, has reportedly been detained by the authorities. The regime has given no explanation for his detention, but unnamed sources told the media that it was part of the campaign against corruption in the oil industry.
Since its establishment, the Beijing branch of Zhongxu was quick in snatching up lucrative deals with China’s major oil companies, the report says.
The story goes into detail about Zhou Bin’s father-in-law, identified as Huang Yusheng, including his business record, personal life, and the work he has done in the Chinese oil industry.
In the context of the unusual criticism and exposure of a former high-level Party member’s family, some Internet users still lamented the fact that things could not be spelled out transparently.
User “JBN” said: “The comments are as fantastic as the article!! But it’s a shame that China is still playing such an obscure game. Sad.”