China cracks down on corruption to shore up Communist Party support
Xi Jinping sees fighting graft as central to Party survival
“The preponderance of facts tells us that the more severe the corruption problem becomes, it will ultimately lead the party and the nation to perish,” said China’s president Xi Jinping in November. Photograph: Feng Li/Getty Images
When He Shen, the most corrupt official of the Qing dynasty, was ousted after 24 years as a court favourite of Emperor Qianlong, investigators discovered a hoard that shocked even those used to the extravagance of the imperial Forbidden City.
The treasure included tens of thousands of gold and silver ingots, hundreds of European clocks, bolts of silk and 24 solid gold beds, inlaid with jewels, on which to entertain his harem of 600 women.
His wildly acquisitive period controlling the imperial court’s revenues planted the seeds of corruption and nepotism that eventually led to the fall of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The current government under President Xi Jinping is well aware of the lesson of He Shen.
The crackdown on corruption in China is aimed at ensuring that He Shen’s excesses should not find a contemporary equivalent at any level of the Communist Party. Xi, who is the architect of the campaign, has said anti-corruption efforts should target low-ranking “flies” and powerful “tigers”.
The Communist Party, as a Marxist Leninist organisation, is well aware of the importance of understanding history, and Xi has painted the anti-corruption campaign as essential to the party’s survival. “The preponderance of facts tells us that the more severe the corruption problem becomes, it will ultimately lead the party and the nation to perish,” Xi said in November. “We must be vigilant.”
During the Ming dynasty, 150,000 officials were executed for corruption, including 152 senior officials. They were killed in grotesque ways, such as by slicing off their skin.
Fast-forward to the photograph in the Chinese media of Ji Jianye, mayor of the city of Nanjing, waving a flag in the happy days before the Supervision Ministry came calling and started to investigate him for “economic problems”, the common euphemism for corruption.
While nothing has been said officially, an online report on the People’s Daily said Ji’s case may have involved some 20 million yuan (€2.4 million).
The party is trying to shore up its legitimacy as its new leaders tackle corruption, and for Xi fighting graft is essential if the party is to maintain its 64-year hold on power.
It is also about ensuring support for Xi’s programme of reforms, which will be part of the agenda at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee scheduled for November.
So far the crackdown on corruption has netted some big fish. The biggest is Bo Xilai, the former party boss in Dalian and Chongqing who was purged last year, and was recently sentenced to life in jail for corruption and abuse of power. Bo looked destined for the very top until he disappeared from public view in April last year after a scandal set off by the poisoning of a British businessman, Neil Heywood, by Bo’s wife, Gu Kailai.