A Chengyu to Explain Zhou Yongkang’s Fall

By Mitchell Blatt | Uncategorized

Aug 06

At Politico, Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang posit that the corruption charges against Zhou Yongkang are not just because of corruption, but also for Xi Jinping to consolidate power. Zhou, who was once head of China’s security system and a member of the Politiburo Standing Committee, is accused, according to their article, of, in addition to abusing power, conspiring to kill political opponents and plotting with Bo Xilai to seize power from Xi.

He is one of the highest ranking officials ever to face such an investigation. Ho and Huang argue that corruption in general is endemic to Chinese politics and that most officials, particularly those at the top, get away with it.

Citing a chengyu (a Chinese idiom):

For the sake of the collective unity, senior leaders have been granted immunity from criminal investigations and prosecution. As the ancient Chinese saying points out, “Punishment does not extend to the emperor’s advisers and ministers.”

If that chengyu doesn’t fit Zhou’s case, here’s one that does:
伴君如伴虎 – To be in the king’s company is tantamount to living with a tiger.

The story about the Ming Dynasty goes that the Hongwu Emperor, after rising to power in defeat of the Yuan, invited many of his advisers to a banquet and had the banquet hall set on fire to kill them. Emperors throughout Chinese history–in folklore and in fact–have killed those advisers they feared who were too smart and who might overthrow them later.

The Hongwu Emperor, from Wikipedia Commons.

The Hongwu Emperor, from Wikipedia Commons.

The Hongwu Emperor was a wandering beggar before he joined an army to fight the Yuan and rose up to become a general. While in power, he issued an edict that no one could criticize him. Another story holds that a Confucian scholar came to the court just to criticize the emperor and brought along his own coffin, stepping into it at the end of his speech. The emperor ended up sparing him.

The case of Zhou is different, because Xi, if the reports are correct, didn’t take him down out of paranoia but only after he did actually try to threaten Xi’s power. Nonetheless, it relays the same idea that, if you are in a position of power or close to power, you have to watch your back.

The businessmen that Zhou allegedly had killed attest to that, as does Neil Heywood, the businessman whom Bo Xilai’s wife was convicted of killing. Heywood may have helped get Bo Guagua accepted into a British school, according to some sources quoted by the Daily Beast.

In this case, Zhou is being called a “tiger” in the Chinese media. To reverse the idiom, being in the tiger’s company is like living near a king. If Zhou is anything like the Hongwu Emperor, he is fearsome indeed.

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About the Author

Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist who has lived and worked in China for six years. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, USA Today, the South China Morning Post, The Korea Times, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, Silkwinds and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.