A number of senior party officials toppled in President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign made confessions on state television this week, as Xi lays the groundwork for a once-in-a-decade leadership reshuffle.
Analysts said the public humiliation of fallen senior cadres highlighted Xi’s determination to enshrine his anti-graft campaign, get ruling elites to toe the party line and discourage any potential political challengers.
The confessions were included in an eight-part TV series that was jointly produced by China Central Television and the Communist Party’s disciplinary watchdog under Wang Qishan, Xi’s right-hand man.
The first episode was broadcast to the country’s television viewers on Monday.
The series, Always on the Road, will air daily until next Monday, when a four-day plenary session of the Central Committee is scheduled to start. It will be the committee’s last major meeting before a new central leadership is formed next year.
“The series paves the way [for Xi] to have a successful plenary session,” said Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing.
“This television programme syncs perfectly with the plenary session’s theme: governing the party in a strict manner.”
Many of the details revealed in the series cannot be independently verified. Interviews with jailed senior officials, for example, are highly unlikely to be granted to journalists outside of state media.
The first episode on Monday, subtitled “Feelings of the people”, showed images of Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, the two former vice-chairmen of China’s top military commission. Both disappeared from public view after being placed under investigation for graft. Guo was jailed for life in July, while Xu died of cancer while in custody last year.
According to Monday’s episode, Bai Enpei, the former party secretary of Yunnan province who is serving a life sentence, had many jade bracelets in his home, and his wife once demanded one worth 15 million yuan (HK$17 million) as a bribe.
A disciplinary official said in the broadcast that expensive furniture and other luxury items were found in his home.
Li Chuncheng, a former party deputy secretary in Sichuan province serving a 13-year sentence and a close aide to disgraced security tsar Zhou Yongkang, burst into tears during an interview segment of the programme.
Li said he regretted his greed and the fact that “everyone’s life is a live broadcast, and there’s no way to live it again”.
The episode also claimed that Zhou Benshun, the former Hebei party secretary and another close associate of Zhou Yongkang, lived in an 800 square metre house and hired a nanny to look after his pets. When one turtle died, Zhou, officially an atheist, reportedly wrote a Buddhist sutra and buried it with the pet.
The broadcast also included old video clips of Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing party boss, and Zhou Yongkang, the former security tsar, on trial. However, there were no new images of the two.
Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing, said public humiliation of senior officials was part of the Cultural Revolution days, and that the televised confessions showed some similarities to those times.
“It sends a warning shot to those who are still in office,” said Zhu from the Chinese Academy of Governance.