2014 will stand out in Chinese memory for the ruling Communist Party of China’s dismissal of Zhou Yongkang, the country’s former security tsar, for a criminal probe by the judiciary.
The Chinese have dubbed the once overwhelmingly powerful Zhou as “Tiger Zhou.” Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan, the CPC’s chief discipline inspector, who have both pressed ahead resolutely and in good order, have been labeled as “Tiger-hunting heroes”.
If you have visited China, Beijing in particular, you would have felt the shock that Zhou’s fall has brought to Chinese minds. On and off the Internet, speculations, suspicions, revelations, and rumors surrounding Zhou and his accomplices abound.
First, because Xi and his comrades have broken a long-standing unspoken judicial taboo in China: Members of the Standing Committee of the CPC Politburo are not subject to criminal investigation. No written law includes such exemption. But in fact the extremely few (five to nine members of the Poliburo Standing Committee in different times) powerful people at the CPC’s leadership core have never been probed for dereliction of duty or other criminal liabilities. It is thus unprecedented to launch judicial proceedings against a member on the party’s highest decision-making panel. No wonder some are comparing Zhou’s investigation to the arrest of the “Gang of Four,” led by the wife of the late Mao Zedong 38 years ago.
Such a comparison is understandable, yet shallow. Judging from what has been exposed in the anti-graft campaign Xi has spearheaded, especially the Zhou case and that of notorious general Xu Caihou in the People’s Liberation Army, corruption in Chinese officialdom and society at large has reached alarming levels. Xi’s crusade against corruption is thus not an attempt to “eliminate political foes”, or “sectional infighting within the CPC”, as some overseas media speculated. Instead, it is an emergency response, aimed at rescuing the CPC and the country. In other words, Xi and his colleagues, Wang Qishan in particular, are, in a special manner, salvaging and sustaining the reform and opening policies Deng Xiaoping pioneered. From the perspective of preserving the healthy operation of the market economy and China’s role as an engine for world economic growth, Xi’s fight against corruption is obviously conducive to all economies. Which is especially true for countries with substantial economic and trade ties with China.
But this is only the very first step. In the struggles with Zhou and Xu, as well as their corrupt underlings, the country’s top decision-makers should have been painfully aware of the absence of rule of law, as well as the serious loopholes in the country’s political system (official appointment mechanisms in particular). Or they would not have chosen “governing the country in accordance with law” as a full session of the CPC Central Committee (the Fourth Plenary) less than two years into their term of office. This has been the only instance when this topic dominated such a meeting in the CPC’s 65 years in power.
Less than a month later, the National People’s Congress, Supreme Court, and Supreme Procuratorate have revised or drafted a series of legal documents targeted at improving supervision, corruption prevention as well as civil rights guarantees. And, discipline inspectors have been dispatched to various party and government institutions.
Xi has said on multiple occasions that the next steps of China’s reforms will be tough. But the decisiveness and resolution he has displayed in handling corrupt officials such as Zhou have won him an indispensable premise for carrying out further reforms, including public confidence. That more and more people are addressing Xi and his wife as “Dada Xi” and “Mama Peng” should be warm consolation for Xi and his team. It’s a sign of public endorsement.
Now the Chinese can bid farewell to 2014 full of optimism. Because they know, the biggest achievement of their country has been establishing the supreme dignity of the rule of the law. The dignity of the rule of the law is actually that of the man.