There are a number of reliable rules in Chinese communist politics. One of them is that the family members, friends, and associates of powerful officials are also afforded protection.
So it spoke volumes, recently, when detail after detail about the corruption of the family of Zhou Yongkang tumbled out in Chinese media reports.
Zhou is the former security czar of the Chinese Communist Party, and a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest body of power in the regime. Since 2012 it has been reported that he is under a cloud of suspicion, but in the last few months there are increasing signs that his misdeeds, and a reckoning for them, will be made public and finally official.
One of the telltale signs of this shift is the relentless publication of details of the corruption of his son Zhou Bin, and his son’s associates, along with his former colleagues, and the industries, which he used to control.
Such attacks on family members “have never been done at this scale before,” said Heng He, a political commentator with New Tang Dynasty Television.
‘Cut the Wings Off’
According to Xia Ming, a professor of political science at the City University of New York, who has followed Zhou’s case, the Communist Party has “step-by-step, cut the wings off” Zhou’s network of power in the oil sector, the security apparatus, and throughout local governments in China.
“I think the decision on Zhou Yongkang has already been made,” Xia said in a telephone interview.
This means that there are no political risks for Chinese media to pummel Zhou, who is in any case a much-maligned character because of the decade he spent at the helm of the security apparatus. Through the security apparatus he went to enormous lengths to jail and punish all manner of civil society figures.
Much of the reporting about Zhou took place just before the opening of the two important political meetings now going on in Beijing. It’s possible that a formal announcement about Zhou will be made near the conclusion of the meetings.
Many of the revelations in question have been about Zhou Yongkang’s son, Zhou Bin. According to state media the Beijing News, Zhou Bin was involved in the mafia-style crimes committed by mining tycoon Liu Han and his gang. Liu was charged with 21 crimes, including murdering nine people, last month.
Zhou Bin also helped Ding Xuefeng, former mayor of Lüliang City of Shanxi Province, to gain the post through bribery. Ding himself was investigated and fired in late February.
Caixin magazine, which has ties with the head of the Party’s anti-corruption committee, Wang Qishan, has been leading the way in the reportage.
Caixin reported recently that Zhou Yongkang’s younger brother Zhou Yuanqing, and his sister-in-law Zhou Lingying, were both taken away on Dec. 1 last year by “discipline investigators from Beijing” for corruption in their businesses.
Zhou Yuanqing was the deputy director of a district land and resources bureau in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province. His wife is a well-known businesswoman engaged in natural gas and auto dealerships, Caixin reports.
Zhou Yuanxing, the other brother of Zhou Yongkang, who passed away from cancer on Feb. 10, was also inspected and faced a charge of “holding a huge amount assets with unknown origin,” the report said.
Safes and boxes of expensive liquor, and gold bars were confiscated from Zhou’s house, the report said.
The family wealth exploded when Zhou Yongkang became the vice minister of the petroleum ministry, and later the Party leader of the China National Petroleum Corporation, the state oil giant.
Hangers-on to Zhou were again boosted when he became head of the Ministry of Public Security in 2003.
Family members in Wuxi became local potentates, the reports indicated. In one case a county official once paid them 150,000 yuan ($24,416) for their help in resolving a lawsuit he had become embroiled in, a source close to the family told Caixin.
Zhou was head of China’s powerful and secretive security apparatus from 2007 to 2012, and before that he was the minister of public security. For a decade, then, he was instrumental in shaping the policies of repression of the Chinese people, called the “stability maintenance system.”
This system used the classic tools of communist dictatorship—secret police, labor camps, prisons, and torture dens—in a particularly aggressive an encompassing manner. Under Zhou’s watch, for example, the harvesting of organs of prisoners of conscience, mainly Falun Gong practitioners, became widespread.
When it comes to prosecuting Zhou, “the Communist Party may have some reservations,” said Xia Ming, the professor. “Opening that information to the public could impact the political Party, its rule, other officials, and even the legitimacy of the regime itself.”