Following the recent state media announcement that former security chief Zhou Yongkang will soon face an “open” trial—if only nominally so—for a variety of corruption charges, Zhou allies Jiang Jiemin and Li Chuncheng were this week formally charged with corruption by top state prosecutors. Coverage from the New York Times notes that these charges follow closely on the heels of a report from the Supreme People’s Court suggesting that disciplinary action against Zhou may be related to political plotting, and not merely corruption. The New York Times’ Michael Forsythe and Chris Buckley report:
The court made that suggestion in a report on its work in 2014 that was published Wednesday. It said that Mr. Zhou had, like Bo Xilai, the disgraced Politburo member who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in September 2013, “trampled on rule by law, wrecked party unity and engaged in nonorganizational political activities.”
The document did not say whether Mr. Bo and Mr. Zhou engaged in those activities together, but by mentioning the two in the same sentence, it added fuel to speculation that the two men, as well as other top leaders such as Xu Caihou, a former general whose death was reported Sunday, had formed a faction.
This month, Zhou Ruijin, a former deputy editor in chief of the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily, said in a commentary that the cases of Mr. Zhou, Mr. Bo, General Xu and another former top official, Ling Jihua, were “deeply entwined.”
According to the Beijing Youth Daily, Zhuang Deshui from Peking University, an expert on corruption, said the words of the Supreme People’s Court implied that Mr. Zhou and other officials had “done something like the Gang of Four, creating small collectivities of interests, attempting to win power and influencing the political attitudes of the public.”
That historical analogy is powerful for anyone in China. The Gang of Four, a group that included Mao’s widow, Jiang Qing, was tried in 1981 over its role in grabbing political power during the latter stages of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. [Source]
For more on incarcerated former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai’s 2013 trial, Xu Caihou’s recent death, or the investigation into Ling Jihua, see prior coverage via CDT. The term new gang of four (新四人帮), rumored to be a reference to Bo, Xu, Ling, and Zhou, has been blocked from Weibo search results since last July.
The Beijing Youth Daily article [Chinese] from which the New York Times quoted Zhuang Deshui above also included Central Party School professor Zhang Xixian’s interpretation of the term “non-organizational political activities,” including a note on the unprecedented nature of the rhetoric. CDT translates:
Central Party School’s Zhang Xixian, an expert on Party construction, has not come in contact with the term “non-organizational political activity” in previous studies. He told the Beijing Youth Daily that while “non-organizational activity” is a phrase used in Party construction, this was the first time he heard the phrase “non-organizational political activity.”
[…] Zhang Xixian believes, if “political activity” refers to political principles and political orientation, “non-organizational political activities” must refer to activity opposed to the political direction of Party leadership, up to the point that it breaks Party policies and principles. [These types of activities] are anti-Party, betraying the basic properties of Party objectives.
As Party scholars attempt to decode this new rhetorical phrase in state media, others are attempting their own analysis online. CDT Chinese editors have compiled a list of Weibo comments on the unprecedented language. A few examples in translation:
njWuleizhe (@nj无泪者): If they’re anti-Party, doesn’t that also mean they’re anti-themselves? I don’t get it.
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Sihanglang (@思行郎): This begs the question: who represents the Party? Is it one person, nine people, or 80,000,000 people? If different Party members hold different political views, how can you tell which ones are “anti-Party”? Who is the arbitrator?
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cruyiff：This Party is so funny… I wouldn’t be surprised if the Party chief turned out to be anti-Party…
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Liyannü (@李岩女): With these folks on the throne, how are the common people supposed to differentiate between “non-organizational political activities” and “organizational political activities”?
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Qinwangxiaoshuo (@秦往小说): Saying that Bo and Zhou are anti-Party is simply ridiculous. They exploited the Party, [used their membership] for pretense, and obtained much benefit from the Party, how could they be anti-Party? No matter where or when, they shouted their support for the Party. This is just as silly as accusing General Secretary Zhao Ziyang of splitting the Party was.
A few experts also weighed in on Weibo. Outspokenly liberal People’s University political science professor Zhang Ming said, “Back in the day, if you were anti-those two people [Bo and Zhou], it meant you were anti-Party” (在那个时候，反这两个人，就等于反党). Fengxiang County [Shaanxi] People’s Court Judge Wen Jinrang commented, “‘Non-organizational political activity’ is not even a legal term, so why was it used by the Supreme People’s Court?” (“非组织政治活动”不是一个法律术语，为什么要由最高法提出？！)