China’s Game of Thrones. Like the actual Game of Thrones, it seems like we’ve been waiting for the final chapter forever. But at least there’s been another interesting plot twist. And it has to do with the shadowy 610 Office: China’s gestapo.
It was named after the date it was created, because calling it the “Central Leading Group to Kidnap and Torture People for Gathering in Parks” sounds good, but wouldn’t fit on the business cards. Former Chinese leader and moldy toad in the hole Jiang Zemin created it as a way to cement his power and get rid of the biggest threat to China: People sitting with their eyes closed.
It’s true that laws in China are often selectively enforced. But if you arrest huge numbers of innocent people and torture them in labor camps, some of them might still try to take you to court. So Jiang created the 610 Office handle this problem outside the pesky law. Instead of being within the Chinese government, the 610 Office and its secret police force all reported directly to him. Problem solved.
Also, controlling a multi-billion-dollar nationwide paramilitary force is good for hanging on to power in general. In fact, that’s one of the top tips in Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, Volume 2: Leadership Tips for Dictators and Other Megalomaniacs. It’s a lesser known work.
The 610 Office was in charge of anti-Falun Gong propaganda, as well as monitoring, punishing, “reeducating” and “transforming” Falun Gong practitioners. Over the years, the 610 Office expanded from “handling” Falun Gong issues, to also dealing with people who believed in other “unapproved” spiritual practices, like house church Christians and Buddhists. And sometimes people who were on the Party’s blacklist for other reasons.
Remember blind Chinese human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who dramatically escaped house arrest in 2012 and made it to the US Embassy? The 610 Office was the one that put him under house arrest and continually harassed his family.
But now it’s 2016 and there’s a new sheriff in town! And he don’t cotton to…organizations that don’t answer directly to him. That’s why recently, Xi Jinping’s investigators have put the 610 Office in the crosshairs. Couldn’t have happened to nicer people. So what are the investigators saying about the 610 Office now? In no uncertain terms, they’re accusing the 610 Office of “a disparity in comprehensively studying and implementing the spirit of the rule of law.” That is to say, accusing them of “illegal behavior.” And that is actually a way bigger deal than it sounds, given how cloak-and-dagger the Communist Party’s high level power struggles are.
There was once a time when the name “610 Office” could not even be uttered in public. Those who did met with brutal retribution. Chinese rights activist Gao Zhisheng wrote this about the 610 Office:
What do you get for naming the most brutal and secretive organization in China in an open letter to Chinese officials? Long term imprisonment and torture. They really do like that torture thing.
But over the past several years, Xi Jinping has been scraping away at the 610 Office. It’s tied to his so-called anti-corruption campaign, which really has more to do with systematically purging the Communist Party of people with ties to Jiang. Getting rid of the 610 Office is a long process that takes years of delicate political maneuvering. I mean, this is the Grand Inquisitor in charge of the purge:
Just look at the depths of sadness in this man’s soul.
Here’s how it’s gone so far. In 2013, 610 Office Director Li Dongsheng was purged in a dramatic fashion.
Of course, officially it was for something else: taking bribes. Think of it as the Chinese equivalent of convicting Al Capone on income tax evasion—if Al Capone was also the government’s vice minister of public security. Which gives you an idea of just how corrupt things are in China.
Then in July this year, Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption investigators formally put the entire 610 Office “under investigation.” And now with this month’s formal charges of “illegal behavior”, it’s clear that Xi is intent on completely dismantling it.
So why is he dismantling the 610 Office? It’s bad PR. And I don’t mean Anthony-Weiner’s-inability-to-stop-using-Twitter level bad PR. I mean torturing-and-mass-murdering-dissidents level bad PR.
The 610 Office has done unspeakable things. And by unspeakable, I mean Western media with bureaus in China dare not speak of them—for fear of getting their visas revoked and their offices in Beijing shut down. Which is one of the reasons why you’ve heard so little about it.
But now, as things start coming to light in overseas media run by, you know, “hostile foreign forces,” Xi Jinping doesn’t want to be left holding the bag. To be fair, I wouldn’t want to be holding Jiang Zemin’s bag either. Who knows what’s in there.
So getting rid of the 610 Office makes Xi Jinping look good. And it’s also an opportunity to purge his political enemies within Jiang Zemin’s faction. It’s like killing two birds with one charge of a disparity in comprehensively studying and implementing the spirit of the rule of law.
The question is, if Xi breaks up the 610 Office, what happens to the functions that the office used to carry out? Like imprisoning dissidents outside the law and torturing them to death. Does that stop, or does it get taken over by other Party organs? At this point, that’s not clear. Some China analysts think that this may be a signal that Xi is going to back off on the Falun Gong issue.
But what do you think? Is Xi Jinping truly out to reform China? Or is he just a dictator trying to amass power? That’s the cliffhanger we’re stuck with until next season. Leave your comments below.