Mass Purge in China’s Liaoning Province Advances Xi Jinping’s Political Aims

September 15, 2016 6:43 pm Last Updated: September 16, 2016 2:58 pm

Following a series of investigations into National People’s Congress delegates bribing their electors, the Chinese Communist Party’s central authorities have removed nearly half the national-level representatives from the key northeastern province of Liaoning in what looks to be the next step in the Xi Jinping administration’s struggle to consolidate and maintain control.

The removal of 45 out of 102 delegates to the National People’s Congress (NPC)—the country’s Party-controlled legislature—representing the industrial rustbelt province was announced on Sept. 13 in a report by the state body. They are charged with having bribed those who elect them to the NPC.

Of the 619 provincial legislators who voted, 523 are believed to have received bribes from the NPC delegates. This figure includes 38 of 62 provincial-level People’s Congress Standing Committee members, who either resigned from their posts in disgrace or were removed, the mainland Chinese publication Caijing reported.

So many delegates to the Liaoning People’s Congress resigned or were removed that a special “preparations group” was dispatched to facilitate the continued operation of the provincial legislature.

The purge in the People’s Congress comes just weeks after the recent investigation and removal of officials holding leadership positions in Liaoning’s provincial administration as well as its capital city of Shenyang.

NPC delegates bribing electors, and officials more generally bribing those who may appoint them to office, is common in China. But the case of the Liaoning delegates is the first time the NPC has openly charged delegates with and disciplined them for bribing voters.

The holding of a position in the NPC opens doors for individuals to enrich themselves or gain various kinds of favors, and so delegate hopefuls have been willing to pay for these positions.

Earlier, two incidents of delegates bribing electors at the local or municipal levels were publicized. The first was in the prefectural municipality of Hengyang in Hunan Province, in 2012 and 2013; the second case was opened and resolved by the central authorities last year and involved bribery in Nanchong, Sichuan Province, in 2011.

Although similar charges could likely be brought widely at the provincial level in China, the Liaoning mass purge of NPC delegates is, so far, unique.

Like many events in the broader anti-corruption campaign being carried out by Chinese leader Xi Jinping since his ascension to power in 2012, the purge in Liaoning appears to also be an assault on the lingering influence of Jiang Zemin, the former Party head whose faction’s presence is still strongly felt in regime politics.

Liaoning, the most populous of three provinces that make up Manchuria or Northeast China, is an unavoidable stepping stone toward the consolidation of Xi’s power: for decades, it has been used as a stomping ground for Jiang and his allies, where they have left an inglorious legacy of bribery, economic decay, and clandestine mass murder.

The ‘Liaoning Gang’

Recently removed high-level Liaoning officials appear to have shielded corrupt behavior among People’s Congress delegates.

This March and April, the Central Committee for Discipline Inspection (CCDI, the Party’s anti-corruption agency) put under investigation Wang Min, Liaoning’s Party chief, the deputy Party secretary of the province, and the Party secretary for Shenyang, Liaoning’s capital. All three were expelled from the Communist Party and fired from their positions by August.

On Aug. 10, the CCDI accused Wang of having “failed to properly supervise the provincial elections and was responsible for serious election fraud including vote buying,” according to China Daily.

According to an article written by a Radio Free Asia (RFA) correspondent in the Liaoning city of Dalian, Wang Min had created an environment in which being a delegate or People’s Congress committee member was in essence a vote-selling business capable of turning thousands or millions of yuan in bribes.

Wang and another one of the accused were also charged with violating Xi Jinping’s Eight-Point Regulation. Promulgated in December 2012, immediately after Xi took office, the regulation is generally understood as aiming to puncture a culture of privilege common among CCP officials.

On Aug. 26, the CCDI announced in a news release that Zheng Yuzhuo, deputy secretary of the Liaoning Province People’s Congress Standing Committee, had been placed under investigation on charges of bribery and other violations of Party regulations.

On Aug. 25, the state-run English-language China Daily reported that Zeng Wei, the Communist Party secretary of Shenyang since 2008, had been replaced by Wang Menghui, who served as Party secretary in Xiamen, a city in the southeast. On Sept. 2 the CCDI announced that Zeng had been placed under investigation. Also apprehended were Zhang Yukun, chairman of Shenyang’s Shengjing Bank, and other associates of Zeng.  

Purges of Liaoning officials rapidly expanded to less important posts before reaching the provincial and national legislative delegates.

Ironically, Wang Min’s patronage had led many delegates to demonstrate loyalty to him by giving up their passports and thus the ability to escape overseas, RFA reported.  

Corruption, Persecution, and Factionalism

Former Liaoning Party chief Wang Min, according to RFA, was a “little brother” to Jiang Zemin and his Northeast regional ally Li Changchun.

As leader of China from 1989 to the early 2000s, Jiang built a sprawling unofficial network through the Party, state, military, and industry. His allies demonstrated personal loyalty by taking active roles in carrying out Jiang’s 1999 repression of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, and in return all but received free license to abuse their power for personal interest.

Xi’s newest focus on Liaoning officials is apt: the province has in many ways been the proving grounds for the most infamous of Jiang’s personnel and policies. It has also been the site of multiple turning points in Chinese history, from the Manchu conquest of China to the establishment of the Japanese puppet state in World War II and the decisive battles where communist armies gained initiative in the civil war that brought Mao Zedong to power.

Many of those in the Jiang camp—prominent among them former leadership contender Bo Xilai, security czar Zhou Yongkang, and top military officer Gen. Xu Caihou—are accused of being personally responsible for facilitating the industry of harvesting organs from Falun Gong adherents, a lucrative practice that has reached genocidal proportions, researchers say.

In Dalian, Bo Xilai was not only pioneering organ harvesting but also, according to researchers such as Ethan Gutmann, likely supplying the bodies of murdered Falun Gong prisoners for plastination and display in anatomical exhibits.

Falun Gong was first taught in 1992 in the neighboring province of Jilin. It gained local popularity in Northeast China and by the end of the 1999s Falun Gong sources say it had over 100 million adherents through the country. A state survey in 1999 reported over 70 million had taken up the practice.

Without any loyalty to Jiang or his faction, Xi Jinping, who came to power as the result of compromises between Party cliques, has given particular weight to targeting Party and state officials, military officers, and industrialists associated with the now 90-year-old Jiang.

Bo, Zhou, and Xu were some of the first and most major of the Jiang stalwarts to be taken down in Xi’s campaign, while more recent moves in Liaoning seem to represent Xi’s mopping up of lesser associates, sent to the province to fill in for Jiang’s senior lieutenants.

The removal of the province’s People’s Congress delegates concerns elections that occurred in late 2012 and 2013, the time when Xi was taking the reins as general secretary of the Communist Party.

After Xi took power, he moved to abolish the system of labor camps, which contain large numbers of Falun Gong adherents and other prisoners of conscience. One such camp, the infamous Masanjia Women’s Prison in Liaoning, received particular attention in 2013 when the mainland Chinese magazine Lens described the brutal conditions and torture in use there. The 20,000-word feature was available for just two days before being shut out of circulation and public commentary.

The recently-purged Wang Min is an example of an official whose loyalties remained with Jiang. According to RFA, Wang associated closely with Bo Xilai and his wife Gu Kailai upon taking his post as provincial secretary. Half a month after the Lens piece was published, Wang Min, who himself took an active role in persecuting Falun Gong, set up an investigation to “prove” that there were no abuses at Masanjia.  

Given Jiang’s lasting influence in the regime structure, it’s likely that much work remains for Xi’s administration elsewhere.