There is an official who is often by Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s side, accompanying him on diplomatic visits and public appearances. Political observers consider him to be Xi’s most trusted aide.
Not much is known about this man, until now.
Zhong Shaojun was recently named a delegate representing the military at China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress. The Chinese Communist Party has thus finally disclosed his personal information, education background, and past career.
Previously, despite Zhong’s high Party position, he was among a few whom no personal information was available. The secrecy behind his identity further fueled the belief that he was among the few Xi relied on.
Zhong, 49, was born in Kaihua County, Zhejiang Province. He became an aide to Xi when the latter was transferred to posts in Zhejiang during the early 2000s. Instead of bringing his then-secretary along, Xi picked Zhong, who had previously served in the provincial Organization Department, to become his secretary. Since then, Zhong has followed Xi to posts in Shanghai and now, at the central leadership in Beijing.
When Xi was party secretary of Shanghai in 2007, Zhong served as the deputy director of the general office, a Party organ devoted to administrative affairs.
After Xi took power as the top Party leader in late 2012, he also elevated a military office and made Zhong the deputy director in charge of managing it.
Along with that role, Zhong became director of the Central Military Commission (CMC) chairman’s office, working directly under Xi. As Party leader, Xi is also head of the military and holds the CMC chairman position.
In 2017, he became a senior colonel.
Zhong was spotted accompanying Xi on a number of occasions. In February 2012, before he became top leader and was vice chair, Xi traveled to the United States on a diplomatic tour. While in Los Angeles, Xi watched an NBA basketball game between the L.A. Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. In a photo of Xi at the game with California officials, Zhong can be seen sitting in the row in front of Xi.
In June 2013, at the occasion of launching China’s Shenzhou 10 spacecraft at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Zhong could be seen accompanying Xi on the state media broadcast.
According to a 2015 article in Frontline, a Hong Kong magazine covering Chinese politics, Zhong also helped Xi take down a military bigwig, Xu Caihou.
First rising through the ranks under former Party leader Jiang Zemin, Xu had gained enormous power as a top general and vice chairman of the CMC. He was placed under internal Party investigation in 2014 on corruption charges and died a year later from bladder cancer before being prosecuted.
The Party has since named Xu and others as guilty of planning a coup to overthrow the Xi leadership.
Zhong was instrumental in investigating and gathering evidence against Xu, according to Frontline magazine. For about a year, Zhong collected documents that revealed over half of the country’s military budget in 2012—more than 335 billion yuan (about $53 billion)—was being gobbled up by 50 top-ranking generals. Xu was a ringleader in the corruption scheme.
Zhong played a major role in Xu’s downfall, helping Xi to get rid of a major political enemy.
Gu Qing’er and Sunny Chao contributed to this report.