Chinese Officials Punished for Possessing Books Banned by the State

November 5, 2020 Updated: November 8, 2020

In recent years, an increasing number of Chinese communist officials have been punished for possessing books published overseas that are banned by the party. Analysts believe it shows the growing fear of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) towards its own members and dissenting opinions inside its political system.

In a recent case on Oct. 29, Chen Zehui, the deputy mayor of Changsha City, the provincial capital of Hunan Province, was removed from his official post. A notice put out by Hubei Provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection said Chen had been expelled from the party for “buying, carrying, reading, and collecting books and magazines published overseas that have ‘serious political problems’.” Chen was also under criminal investigation for corruption, according to the notice.

The CCP’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate in June also announced on its website the arrest of Li Zhong, the deputy mayor of Huainan City in Anhui Province, according to RFA. Li was charged with bringing “books with serious political problems” into China from abroad, as well as corruption and embezzlement charges.

State media Beijing News reported that in 2019, four officials in Chongqing city were also arrested for purchasing, reading, and collecting overseas books with “serious political problems”, among other charges, according to an announcement from the Chongqing Commission for Discipline Inspection.

The case briefing of Wu Dehua, one of the arrested officials, specifically highlighted Wu’s motive for committing such a crime. It said that after the sudden arrest of Sun Zhengcai, the former secretary of the Chongqing Municipal Party Committee, who was a political star within the CCP, Wu was afraid that he would be implicated in the case. Sun was charged with “conspiring openly to usurp party leadership,” as well as bribery. Wu specifically asked someone to bring back two “reactionary magazines” from abroad with the intention of finding out relevant information about Sun’s case, according to the announcement.

The overseas books with “serious political problems” include those about 1989 Tiananmen massacre, the recent Hong Kong protests, religious groups like Falun Gong, as well as the private lives of the CCP officials and their overseas assets, and the books and periodicals revealing the CCP’s top circle infighting.

The section of books banned in mainland China included infighting at Zhongnanhai, the fall of Zhou Yongkang, and state-sanctioned organ harvesting in China. (Yu Gang/Epoch Times)
The section of books banned in mainland China included infighting at Zhongnanhai, the fall of Zhou Yongkang, and state-sanctioned organ harvesting in China. (Yu Gang/Epoch Times)

Observers have said that the cases show that the disciplinary action shows that the CCP views its officials having access to banned books as the highest of crimes—more serious than corruption.

Sheng Xue, a Canadian Chinese writer, told The Epoch Times that the main reason for the disciplinary action is the CCP fears there are more and more people who are against the party within its one-party system.

“People within the ruling party began to have the intent and pursuit to end the CCP’s rule of state terrorism. These people will try their best to bring overseas information back to China (to spread),” she said.

Chen Yonglin, a former CCP diplomat who defected in Australia, told The Epoch Times that the punishments for having banned books could be related to the CCP’s internal power struggles, with officials jockeying for position and snitching on each other.

Chen Yonglin also revealed that there are certain unspoken rules when the CCP punishes its officials.

“If it’s because of political problems, the CCP will use corruption or other charges against them to avoid the political focus. And if it’s about CCP internal power struggle, then they will charge them with political problems, accusing them for having wrong political stance,” he said.

Ye Duanjian, a former Hong Kong senior bank trade and investment project manager who currently lives in the United States, told The Epoch Times that after Xi Jinping took office, the CCP further clamped down on the black market sale and distribution of banned books, especially after the Hong Kong Causeway Bay bookstore incident. In 2015, five booksellers in Hong Kong were kidnapped across the border into China and detained by the CCP’s “special forces” for selling books that are critical of the CCP.

Ye said that most CCP officials like to read banned books because they want to know more about China’s current political environment.

“They have no other way to learn the truth and the politics behind the scenes in mainland China,” he said. “These books can help them form better political judgments.”

However, “under the CCP’s policy of ideological control, the state is further clamping down on illegal literature out of fear that officials’ thinking will become right-leaning by reading them,” Ye added. “But people will still try their best to get the information they want to know.”

Luo Ya and Yi Ru contributed to the report.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the province where Changsha is the capital. The Epoch Times regrets the error.