The premiere's operation is dominating local and international gossipby Helen Gao / August 21, 2014 / Leave a comment
On 29th July, after a year of whispered gossip and internet speculation, China’s Communist Party announced that Zhou Yongkang, the former head of state security, had been placed under official investigation for corruption. The downfall of one of the party’s most powerful figures marked a new stage in President Xi Jinping’s ambitious anti-corruption campaign. Since Xi took office in late 2012, more than 182,000 party officials have been investigated, and many senior figures have been convicted.
Now even people who usually take little interest in politics are talking about it. At a recent gathering with high school classmates, Zhou’s name was brought up. “I can’t believe they finally moved in to investigate him,” said a friend. “I wonder who’ll be next,” said another.
Their eyes twinkled with excitement as names were bandied around. There was no moral outrage: it was just treated as good gossip. In a country where petty bribery is a fact of life—from securing a hospital bed to obtaining a driver’s licence—few citizens are surprised that there could be corruption at the highest levels. During the meal, one classmate mentioned that she might be starting a new job soon at an auction house. The place, she mentioned, is also reputed to act as a money laundering channel for a number of corrupt officials. Everybody smiled knowingly. One classmate joked that if he does well, in a few years he could be one of the auction house’s main clients.
But if many Chinese are wearily accustomed to corruption, that does not mean that they are not angry about the arrogance and callousness of those in power. After the arrest of each “tiger”—Xi’s metaphor for corrupt senior officials—comes a deluge of praise across social media platforms. Many western observers and Chinese liberals have condemned Xi’s anti-corruption campaign as an attempt to purge his opponents and consolidate power, rather than a genuine effort to increase political transparency. Much of the Chinese public agrees with this assessment. But that has not muted public support for the ongoing crackdowns.
The oil tycoons or military generals may have been toppled because they lost the political tussle, but Xi’s anti-corruption…