Investigation of Chinese Security Boss Next Step in Party’s Power Struggle

April 19, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
Zhou Yongkang
Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Standing Committee of the of Communist Party, may follow his protege Bo Xilai in being expelled from his Party posts if his rivals get the best of him. (Liu Jin/AFP/Getty Images)

Political combat continues to roil the Chinese Communist Party, with widely publicized reports that the top security official is now under investigation, and that an essay penned by adversary Premier Wen Jiabao was censored before being published. 

Zhou Yongkang, the country’s security czar, could “face a reckoning” in the scandal that has gone from Chongqing in the southwest all the way to Beijing, according to The Associated Press (AP). The attempted defection in early February of Wang Lijun, former Chongqing police chief, set off a purge that extended next to Wang’s boss Bo Xilai, Chongqing’s controversial neo-Maoist city boss, and Bo’s wife. Now it may have reached the powerful Zhou Yongkang. 

AP reported on April 19 that, according to overseas Chinese media, Zhou was under “some form of secretive investigation by the party’s disciplinary body.” The Epoch Times reported that Zhou was under investigation on April 16, citing the Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo and sources in Beijing that were of the same understanding.

Zhou is supposed to have made “tearful self-criticisms” to the current leadership for his transgressions. AP quoted Boxun’s manager, Watson Meng saying that how Zhou is dealt with will be decided based on his attitude. 

Click to read about the most recent developments in the ongoing power struggle within the Chinese communist regime. In this special topic, we provide readers with the necessary context to understand the situation. Get the RSS feed. Get the Timeline of Events. Who are the Major Players? Chinese Regime in Crisis RSS Feed

The reasons for the leadership targeting the powerful boss of all of China’s police forces are not given definitively. Zhou was a known supporter of Bo Xilai, and reportedly, was also the sole member of the Standing Committee to disagree in a secret meeting with the Bo’s ousting. 

That Zhou is being investigated suggests a more grave possibility: he may have been involved in a coup attempt with Bo Xilai, against the leadership, a rumor that emerged in March and was never refuted. 

According to Zhang Tianliang, a prominent political commentator who also writes a column in The Epoch Times, the deepest ruction within the Party relates to the persecution of the spiritual practice Falun Gong.

Zhou Yongkang was installed by Jiang Zemin in order to carry out the brutal campaign against Falun Gong. If Zhou is ousted, it would spell not only the end of his career, but he could also face criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity. 

Jiang is the political patron to both Zhou and Bo Xilai. All three are chief perpetrators of the persecution, which has led to the arbitrary imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of innocent Chinese and the torture and violent deaths of tens of thousands. Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are reported to be cold on idea of the 13-year persecution, with the latter even reportedly calling for a redress of the victims.

Concurrent with the news about Zhou, Boxun also published an article by the same writer highlighting alleged censorship of a recent article written by Wen Jiabao. 

Wen had published in the Communist Party ideological journal Seeking Truth a piece about “sunshine” illuminating the levers of power in China—a reference to government transparency. In it, he argued that much more government information should be made available to the public. In a part that was reportedly censored, he attributed the proliferation of online rumors about to the lack of openness in the regime.

This would have been a thinly veiled attack on leading hard-liner Zhou Yongkang, who has launched campaigns meant to prevent “harmful” rumors. China watchers understand such efforts as attempts to assert Party control over online discourse. 

These criticisms were expunged from the article before it was published, Boxun alleges. The author of that piece uses the pen name Qiao Fu, the same name that is attached to many of the insider stories and rumors on Boxun, many of which have proven later to be accurate. 

The ongoing conflict indicates that no faction in the Party has yet gained the decisive upper hand. The two sides have come to represent the battle for China’s future: hard-line communist rule or the path of political and economic reform, opening up civic freedom for the Chinese people, probably precipitating the Party’s ultimate end.

Inroads against Zhou apparently continue to be made. It is currently possible, for instance, to search for news about Zhou Yongkang’s son, Zhou Bin, on Baidu, the most used search engine in China. Damaging material about the progeny of the Party elite is usually carefully censored in China. 

But in a search on April 19 for Zhou’s son, the first hit links to an article alleging that Zhou Bin received a bribe of 20 million yuan ($3.1 million) to bail out the biggest gang leader in Gansu Province. The “gang boss,” who is not named, was said to have murdered people and been involved in organ trafficking. 

With research by Olivia Li, Ariel Tian, and Angela Wang.