I was shocked, shocked, by the official announcement last week by Chinese state-run media that former Chinese security czar Zhou Yongkang had been placed under investigation for “serious disciplinary violations.” This was news to me. I’ve only been hearing about for months now. But you can’t expect state-run media to keep up with the news, now can you. Actually, the most important thing to learn from it is what the official Party line is. And in this case, that is clear–Xi Jinping has won the long power struggle against Zhou Yongkang.
Along with Zhou, several of his closet relatives have been detained–his wife Jia Xiaoye, younger brother Zhou Yuanqing and his family, and eldest son Zhou Bin together with his wife and parents-in-law.
This story broke on July 29, International Tiger Day, a less than subtle reference to Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s corruption campaign that’s promise to root out the tigers and flies in the Communist Party. It’s almost like someone in the Party has…a sense of humor. Never thought I’d see the day.
So to help you understand why this is a big deal, I’ve complied the top 9 things you need to know about Zhou Yongkang.
Number 9: Zhou’s investigation is almost unheard of in China.
There was an unwritten rule that top officials wouldn’t investigate each other. They were untouchable, especially after they’ve retired. That was to avoid the kind of chaos that engulfed the Party during the Cultural Revolution. This makes Zhou the highest ranking member of the Communist Party to be investigated in decades.
Number 8: Zhou got his start in oil.
Zhou started out in China’s state-owned oil industry, eventually becoming the CEO of one of China’s two major state-owned oil companies. In fact, in the lead up to the investigation against him, several bigwigs in China’s state-run oil industry, with ties to Zhou, were placed under investigation. In Communist countries, there’s a very fine line between managing a state-owned enterprise, and being a political figure. Being a CEO basically put him on the level of being in charge of a ministry in the State Council. Then in 2001, Zhou became the Party Secretary of Sichuan Province. Not an irrelevant position, but far from the kind of power that would earn Zhou a spot in the top 30 of Forbes 70 most powerful people in the world for 2011
Number 7: Zhou may have murdered his first wife.
Some people, like his own son, think he had his first wife murdered. In 2000, she was killed in a mysterious car accident. Several reports say that the car that hit her had military license plates. One year later, Zhou married former anchor and journalist for CCTV, Jia Xiaoye. In addition to being 28 years younger than him, she was also the niece of then top Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. It’s been said she was a “gift” from Li Dongsheng, a powerful ally of Jiang, and then head of the ultra powerful 610 office.
Number 6: Zhou had an unusual rise to power.
Now it may shock you, but after marrying the niece of Jiang Zemin, Zhou suddenly went from an official in out-of-the-way Sichuan, to being hand selected by Jiang as head of the Ministry of Public Security, which controls the vast network of China’s police, paramilitary police, and secret police, even though he had no experience with police work. From there, in 2007, he became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, making him at the time, one of the 9 most powerful men in China. No one had ever made it into top leadership by working for the security forces. Until Zhou Yongkang.
That year he also became the head of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee. Don’t let the official name fool you though. His role in Chinese politics was primarily getting protestors tossed into illegal, unregistered prisons, supervising beatings and intimidation of religious and ethnic minorities, and ensuring that security forces “strike hard” against anyone considered a threat to Communist Party rule. He also replaced his personal matchmaker, Li Dongsheng, as head of the 610 Office.
And now number 5: Zhou got his power by helping Jiang Zemin in his persecution of Falun Gong.
Jiang liked Zhou not so much because Zhou married his niece, but because Zhou was eager to help Jiang in his pet project and legacy, the genocide of Falun Gong, which Zhou was also just as eager to use to grab his own power and wealth. Under Zhou, the number of labor camps grew massively and at its peak, half of the detainees were Falun Gong practitioners.
Number 4: Zhou was good buddies with loveable scamp, Kim Jong-Un.
Zhou was the only foreigner on the podium with him when his father Kim Jong Il led him out as the heir apparent in 2010. That’s right, not the Chinese ambassador, not even someone with any kind of foreign affairs position. Just the head of China’s domestic security forces.
Number 3: Under Zhou, China’s domestic security forces began to dwarf the army.
That kind of gives you a sense for how things are run in China. The People’s Liberation Army has 2.5 million members. Zhou had a staff of 10 million. And in 2012 his budget was 10 billion dollars more than the budget for the army. That was a lot of power and money behind this guy. And again, he was able to expand his police force primary by using the persecution of Falun Gong as an excuse.
Number 2: The real reason why Xi Jinping is going after Zhou.
Corruption? Ha. No. There’s evidence that Zhou and the-now-purged Bo Xilai attempted to stage a coup, which failed, and reports that he orchestrated not one, but two attempted assassinations of Xi.
But Xi Jinping isn’t a dictator. Even though he’s the current head of the Communist Party, he doesn’t have absolute power. And that made Xi’s actions pretty risky as well. There are those in the Party who are deeply unhappy at what he’s doing. And Xi is walking a really fine line by trying to move against Zhou while still preserving the power of the Party.
Number 1: Why did it take so long for an official announcement?
It’s been reported for ages that Zhou was under investigation. And even right after Bo Xilai fell from power in 2012, many predicted that Zhou Yongkang would be next. So why now? Well, Xi Jinping had to dismantle Zhou’s power base first.
First, several high-ranking people in China’s state-run oil industry, with ties to Zhou, were placed under investigation. Then in October, two more senior executives of state-run companies with ties to Zhou, Jin Jianping, former chairman Tianjin Gas Group, and Mao Zhigang, former chairman Bank of Chengdu where placed under shuanggu. That’s the shady internal investigation system within the Communist Party.
Then, the vast expanse of labor camps Zhou established, a third rail issue in Chinese politics, was dismantled. As far as reform goes, that’s pretty meaningless because China still has plenty of mental hospitals, drug rehab facilities, and brainwashing centers to detain people in. But it was a big blow to Zhou’s power base.
Not as big of a blow though, as the new State Security Committee that’s taking control over the police and security forces that were once controlled by Zhou’s PLAC. And you know who’s in charge of this new committee? Xi Jinping.
Sources told Reuters that a total of 14 and a half billion dollars has been seized from family and associates of Zhou Yongkang. And in just the four months between December and March, “300 of Zhou’s relatives, political allies, protégés and staff have also been taken into custody or questioned.”
But it looks like Xi has won the power struggle, which means that Zhou’s crimes have become the official Party line. China’s army and armed police are officially voicing support for the investigation and, as is the case in these matters, wild stories of sexual extravagance on the part of the accused are being exposed. Did you know Zhou kept 400 mistresses? I mean, Chinese media have to somehow make Zhou out to be a bad guy without making the Party look bad.
So what happens next? Sooner or later Zhou will be put on trial, but not for any of his real crimes. Might Xi meet with resistance from counter factions with the Party? Will there be more tiger hunts? All I can say is, I think there’ll be material for China Uncensored for years to come.
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Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Epoch Times.