Wang Qishan, the Chinese Communist Party’s top anti-corruption official, departed from prepared remarks at an otherwise tedious communist political meeting recently, letting slip a cryptic comment about the future of the anti-corruption push that he is overseeing.
The occasion was the 7th Meeting of the 12th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a kind of political advisory body that is used as a prop to demonstrate the purportedly inclusive nature of one-Party rule in China. Wang spoke familiar Party boilerplate for about 70 minutes, then took questions from the assembly.
At one point Wang was asked whether there would be a bigger “tiger” in the anti-corruption campaign, after Zhou Yongkang, the former security chief, is disposed with. Zhou oversaw the Party’s security system from 2007 to 2012, and was previously head of the public security bureau, both jobs he gained through the influence of Jiang Zemin, the paramount leader of the Party through the 1990s and into the 2000s.
Wang smiled but refrained from answering. He was then asked whether the answer was the now oft-quoted phrase “You know what’s going on,” first deployed by Lu Xinhua, the spokesperson for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, in March, to ostensibly deflect a question about Zhou Yongkang. The Chinese phrase “ni dongde” is now essentially taken as a concealed affirmation of the question.
Wang smiled and said “You’ll understand by and by.”
On the same day that Wang uttered this line, Yan Zhaowei, a senior reporter for Xinhua, the state-run news agency, published an article titled: “What are the rules that Wang Qishan has broken by making moves in Shanxi?” The headline was in reference to the cleanout of over 20 officials from Shanxi Province, a coal-rich area widely seen as steeped in corruption.
The rule that Wang broke, according to Yan, was: “When an act is widely accepted, even if it is not permitted by the law, the law will not punish the person who commits it.”
Wang is thus, Yan says, tearing apart the interest groups, the “tigers,” “big tigers,” and “spider webs” that have come to inhabit political circles in China, paving the way for reform.
The other potential significance of Wang’s statement, and Yan Zhaowei’s reference to “spider webs,” relates to the former Communist Party leader Jiang Zemin. Jiang, who took power in 1989 and did not relinquish all official posts until 2005, installed many of the officials that Xi Jinping has slowly been weeding out. These include Zhou Yongkang, whom Jiang appointed to oversee the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice, his personal campaign, and Xu Caihou, who was one of the second most powerful military men. The explosion of bureaucratic corruption in China also took place under Jiang’s rule. Jiang has been called a “half-dead spider” by netizens in China, and rumours that Xi might deal with him directly have been passed around for the last several months.