Xi's Corruption Crackdown

How Bribery and Graft Threaten the Chinese Dream

A police officer stands guard at the entrance to the Jinan Intermediate People's Court on the third day of the trial of ousted Chinese politician Bo Xilai in Jinan, Shandong province August 24, 2013. Carlos Barria / Reuters

In a series of speeches he delivered shortly after taking office in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping cast corruption as not merely a significant problem for his country but an existential threat. Endemic corruption, he warned, could lead to “the collapse of the [Chinese Communist] Party and the downfall of the state.” For the past two years, Xi has carried out a sweeping, highly publicized anticorruption campaign. In terms of sheer volume, the results have been impressive: according to official statistics, the party has punished some 270,000 of its cadres for corrupt activities, reaching into almost every part of the government and every level of China’s vast bureaucracy. The most serious offenders have been prosecuted and imprisoned; some have even been sentenced to death.

The majority of the people caught up in Xi’s crackdown have been low- or midlevel party members and functionaries. But corruption investigations have also led to the removal of a number of senior party officials, including some members of the Politburo, the group of 25 officials who run the party, and, in an unprecedented move, to the expulsion from the party and arrest of a former member of the Politburo’s elite Standing Committee.

The main doors to the Jinan Intermediate People's Court building in Shandong province, August 2013. Reuters / Carlos Barria
Xi’s campaign has proved enormously popular, adding a populist edge to Xi’s image and contributing to a nascent cult of personality the Chinese leader has begun to build around himself. And it has the quiet support of the aristocratic stratum of “princelings,” the children and grandchildren of revolutionary leaders from the Mao era. They identify their interests with those of the country and consider Xi to be one of their own. But there has been pushback from other elites within the system, some of whom believe the campaign is little more than a politically motivated purge designed to help Xi solidify his own grip on power. Media organizations in Hong Kong have reported that Xi’

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