Lawyers Celebrate Justice Ministry Corruption Scandals With Black Humor

The latest corruption investigation into a senior Ministry of Justice official has inspired schadenfreude among lawyers in China. The investigation into Liu Zhiqiang, a former Vice-Minister of Justice, follows closely after another launched against Tang Yijun, the former head of the ministry. In 2017, long-time Justice Minister Wu Aiying was expelled from the Party for graft. In 2022, Fu Zhenghua, who headed the Ministry of Justice between 2018 and 2020, also fell in a corruption investigation—and was later accused of being part of a “political clique” opposed to Xi Jinping. At The South China Morning Post, Sylvie Zhuang reported on the cryptic announcement that Liu is under investigation for corruption

Beijing’s former vice-justice minister Liu Zhiqiang, who once served on the committee of Interpol, is under investigation in China, according to the country’s top anti-graft agency.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection published a brief statement on its website on Tuesday saying Liu, 60, was “undergoing disciplinary review and supervisory investigation” and was “suspected of serious violations of discipline and law” – a euphemism for corruption.

[…] Liu’s tenure at the Justice Ministry also overlapped with that of Fu Zhenghua, China’s justice minister from 2018 to 2020, who was charged with corruption in 2021 and jailed for life in 2022 for making 117 million yuan (US$16 million) in illicit gains in crimes that include bribery. Fu was also once China’s most powerful police chief. [Source]

The investigation into Liu has inspired a considerable amount of black humor in China’s legal community. Liu had given a number of talks to legal  associations about fighting corruption. In an article posted to WeChat, one lawyer recalled Liu railing against corruption: “Looking back at Liu Zhiqiang’s speech, it was a naked farce of ‘corrupt cadres criticizing corruption.’ What’s more, it laid out the tortured logic of the whole drama. You gotta hand it to him!” In the same article, the author shared a screenshot of a WeChat Moment, translated below: 

A screenshot of a lawyer's WeChat Moment showing signed copies of licenses to practice law.

In our team chat, we just created a collage of the [officials’] signatures on our licenses to practice law. Soon we’ll have a complete set. There is an atmosphere of optimism throughout the office.  [Chinese]

The screenshot shows the signatures of Wu Aiying, Fu Zhenghua, and Tang Yijun—the aforementioned Ministry of Justice officials, all of whom have been convicted of corruption or are currently under investigation for corruption. The line about “optimism” is a sarcastic reference to a now-censored hashtag hailing China’s economic growth, originally posted to Weibo by state news agency Xinhua.

Xi Jinping’s signature anti-corruption campaign remains in full swing. A documentary on graft released in January focused on corruption in China’s soccer and financial sectors, as well as within local governments. State media has asserted that this year’s anti-graft docuseries “hints at [a] more potent anti-graft campaign in 2024.” Despite the seemingly political nature of many of China’s corruption prosecutions, China has made meaningful progress in fighting corruption according to many international indices.


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