The Latest Tactic for Officials in Detention in China: Go Crazy

May 21, 2015 Updated: May 22, 2015

Top Chinese officials undergoing Communist Party discipline are often struck with a common malady—temporary insanity.

Ling Jihua, the former secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Secretariat and top aide to Hu Jingtao, behaved in the most peculiar fashion while he was subjected to “shuanggui”—an abusive system of torture and interrogation the Party uses on its officials—according to the May issue of Hong Kong Chinese-language magazine The Trend.

While in detention late last year, Ling reportedly sang “red songs”—propaganda ditties from the Mao Zedong era—and put on a “performance” every time he did so. Occasionally, Ling would laugh madly and say to his guards: “It’s alright, you’ve all worked hard; go have a break, go watch some television,” or “Go home and have a couple of drinks on me.” When “pretending to sleep,” Ling would say: “I’m not guilty, I’m wronged; Zhou Yongkang has dragged me into this.”

Zhou Yongkang, the once powerful former Politburo member who at one time held sway over virtually all law enforcement mechanisms in China—courts, the police, armed police, labor camps, procuratorate—also feigned madness while in “shuanggui,” The Trend reports.

And in 2012, Zhou’s close ally and former Chongqing boss Bo Xilai too reportedly suffered “mental disorder” during interrogations and was briefly unable to “properly cooperate with investigations,” according to Hong Kong Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao.

The seemingly rapid descent of madness onto the perfectly healthy minds of purged Chinese officials doesn’t just affect those at the very top. Back in 2008, a director of social affairs and social welfare in the south central province of Guangxi, Long Zhihua, reportedly experienced a brief bout of insanity when the local anti-corruption body investigated him, according to the state-run China Daily. When Long was “crazy,” he played the fool, played dead, and even wet his pants.

But Long quickly recovered when his case was transferred to a prosecuting body. Long promised to richly reward the investigators if they let him out. After the investigators refused to accept the bribe, Long turned nasty and started cursing them. “Now I’m locked up; when you’re all in here, you will serve a longer time than I!” he yelled, according to China Daily.

Bo and Zhou too eventually “recovered” from their mental disorders. Bo appeared perfectly sane and in control of his wits during his show trial in 2013. Realizing his madness act was futile, Zhou gave up, wrote 22 confession statements, and begged for his life.

There is also a good chance that Ling Jihua, who was thrice sent to the Armed Police Force General Hospital for mental illness, is faking madness—a special psychiatric disorders team assessed Ling in his Beijing detention center in late April and suspect that he is putting on a show to resist investigation, according to The Trend.