Since the opening up of the Chinese economy by Deng Xiaoping in 1979, China has grown wealthy, but corruption has also become pervasive at all levels of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Corruption has been a part of Chinese business and governance for millennia, but despite the grand pronouncements of the CCP about eradicating corruption, it has not only endured under the current system but grown to extraordinary heights. Due to deeply entrenched corruption across the government, as well as the variable spread of economic benefits, this issue will remain a severe challenge for the CCP as the Xi Jinping era enters its second decade. The necessity for the state security agencies to support political control by Xi will also ensure that anti-corruption purges continue to impact the police and security agencies.
In July, former Deputy Minister of Public Security Fu Zhenghua pleaded guilty in the Changchun Intermediate People’s Court in Jilin Province to charges of bribery relating to 117 million yuan ($17 million) and abuse of power from 2005 to 2021. Fu’s alleged corruption occurred during his tenure as Director of the Beijing Public Security Bureau (PSB) and later as Deputy Minister of Public Security, which involved oversight of policing across the People’s Republic of China (PRC) (South China Morning Post (SCMP), July 29).
The arrest and conviction of Fu is part of a prolonged crackdown on corrupt officials during Xi Jinping’s tenure, which from early 2021 onward, has focused on law enforcement agencies. The scale and extent of the crackdown indicates that policing in China may be endemically corrupt. The CCP aggressively pursues corruption that grew during the high economic growth years after 1979, which affected all arms of government but especially the PSB as its officers have been poorly paid with many consequently resorting to illegitimate means to benefit from the increasing wealth in China.
However, the continued arrests of senior officers indicate that Xi and his faction in the CCP intend to secure the loyalty of the PSB and other security agencies by using anti-corruption as a tool of control. The complete obedience of the PSB to the CCP and their reliability to implement restrictive social controls is an essential part of China’s expanding police state that undergirds one-party rule. Corruption in the PSB at both junior and senior levels weakens public trust in policing and as a result, undermines the rule of the CCP in the police state.
Several recent corruption cases also involve action taken against officers who were members of political factions that may have posed a potential threat to President Xi and his clique of supporters, such as those associated with former CCP leaders Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang (China Brief, October 14, 2021). This has led to the purge of a large number of senior officials in the public security system, and some in the state security bureaucracy, which may have been more about political loyalty than corruption. The aim of such a purge is to ensure obedience and fear amongst public security officials so that the security apparatus can be controlled by President Xi without fear of a challenge. However, these cases indicate that the individuals, as well as being possible political threats, were also deeply corrupt.
The PSB and the Party
PSBs at national, provincial, and municipal levels maintain public order, enforce all criminal laws, also have some responsibilities for national security and as a result, have a huge amount of power as the primary means by which the CCP exerts control over citizens. This control flows down from the national to local levels through the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), which coordinates the work of the provincial and municipal PSBs although they report directly to local leaders who have a great deal of autonomy and consequently, opportunity for misconduct.
The MPS has a policing role but also serves political security and counterintelligence functions. The MPS was created in 1949 with the abolishment of the Social Affairs Department of the Central Committee of the CCP and the absorption of its personnel. This enabled the move of public security functions from the Party to the state, although the leadership at that time were drawn from the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), either generals or political commissars, and the military maintained strong control or influence over the MPS up until the late 1970s. 
Although the MPS was separated from the CCP structure, it remained a tool of the Party under Mao Zedong and was essential to the survival of high-ranking CCP leaders during periods of instability. During the Cultural Revolution eight MPS Vice Ministers were arrested, suspended, or dismissed. In September 1966, PLA representatives took charge of the MPS using military force to impose control, and most of the former national, provincial and local police leaders were sent to CCP schools and labor camps for education.  Only after Deng Xiaoping started to implement reforms in 1975 were PLA officers gradually moved out of MPS leadership.
The reforms started by Deng did not really separate the Party and state in the MPS bureaucracy, which, like all organs of the PRC state, involved the Party having indirect influence over the policing and security agencies. PSB offices at the provincial and municipal level have leaders with multiple government and CCP roles, such as membership of local Party committees, which have an important role in police recruitment, promotion, salary and benefits, as well as resource allocation.  Despite formal separation, the Party has controlled the PSB since the creation of the MPS in 1949. As the Party controls the MPS, the influence of the CCP Secretary General (who is also the President) is paramount.
The PSB, Politics and Corruption
The large number of cases involving senior officers indicates that corruption in the PSB may be endemic. For so many cases at such senior levels, involving networks of police officers across different provinces, to occur over such a prolonged period of time suggests that corruption is not confined to isolated “bad apples,” but has become widespread across the PSB.
In January, Sun Lijun, Vice Minister of Public Security, pleaded guilty to charges of accepting bribes of 646 million yuan ($95 million), manipulating the securities market, and illegally holding firearms (Caixin, January 14). Sun began his police career in 1988, and in 2018 became the youngest Deputy Minister of the MPS, where he was in charge of the First Bureau responsible for domestic security in the PRC, including in Hong Kong and Macau, and was also part of a team sent to Wuhan at the start of the COVID-19 epidemic (SCMP, July 8). For a senior officer with such sensitive responsibilities to be convicted of corruption is an extraordinary indictment of the system that allowed him to be promoted to such a level.
Other senior officers were implicated in the “Sun faction.” In September 2021, Wang Like, former Director of the PSB and Secretary of the Politics and Legal Affairs Commission of the Jiangsu Provincial Committee, was dismissed from public office and expelled from the CCP for disloyalty, bribery and several other corruption-related allegations, with his case transferred to the prosecutorial authorities (Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, September 22, 2021). Wang started his police career in the 1980s in Liaoning Province, where he worked with Wang Lijun who was later Director of the PSB in Chongqing Municipality and in 2012 was convicted of corruption, attempted defection, as well as involvement in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood (Creaders.net, October 15, 2012). The indications of the political reason for the prosecution of Wang Like come from his association with Wang Lijun, who reported to former CCP Secretary of Chongqing Bo Xilai, once considered to have been a political rival of Xi Jinping, but who was purged a decade ago, and is currently serving a lifetime prison sentence.
Also implicated in the crackdown on the “Sun faction” were former PSB directors Deng Huilin of Chongqing, Gong Daoan of Shanghai, and Liu Xinyun of Shanxi province (Caixin, January 17). Reports of these investigations, arrests, and convictions indicate a web of nepotism and corruption that stretched across multiple provinces at the highest levels of the PSB’s leadership.
Deng Huilin, the successor of Wang Lijun as Director of the Chongqing PSB, was removed from office in January 2021 accused of using his post to seek profit for others, illegally accepting property, speaking ill of government policies, and engaging in superstitious activities (China Daily, January 4, 2021). Deng pleaded guilty to bribery charges during his trial at the People’s Court of Baoding City in Hebei Province (China.org.cn, September 11, 2021).
Gong Daoan, Deputy Mayor of Shanghai and Director of the PSB, was arrested in April 2020 and later charged with abuse of power, corruption, misconduct, and building cliques within the Party (SCMP, February 11, 2021).
Liu Xinyun, the former Deputy Governor of Shanxi Province and Director of the Shanxi Public Security Department, was removed from his position in April 2021 for corruption. Liu was previously head of cyber operations at the MPS in Beijing and led the PRC’s implementation of big data, Internet monitoring, and other technologies for policing (SCMP, April 12, 2021). In January, Liu was charged at the Langfang Intermediate Court in Hebei Province with taking advantage of his various posts to assist companies and individuals with business operations in return for accepting cash and gifts worth over 13.3 million yuan ($2.09 million) between 1998 and 2021 (China Daily, January 6).
The cases against the “Sun faction” of Deng, Gong, and Liu illustrated that the purge is not only about eradicating corruption but also about eliminating threats from “cliques” that if not broken could develop inappropriate levels of political influence. A CCTV documentary on the “Sun faction” noted that “In Sun Lijun’s values, grabbing greater political power and obtaining greater economic benefits are two inseparatble aspects.” (Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, January 15)
The convictions of Sun Lijun and others in the “Sun faction” were preceded in 2018 by the arrest of Meng Hongwei, who was President of INTERPOL from 2016 and previously served as Vice Minister of Public Security in China as well as Director of the Coast Guard. This case was a far higher profile episode than the domestic PSB arrests as Meng was in charge of INTERPOL. Meng confessed to the charges against him in the First Intermediate People’s Court of Tianjin and was sentenced to thirteen and a half years of imprisonment. Meng admitted to accepting bribes totaling 14.46 million yuan ($2.14 million) between 2005 and 2017 (Global Times, June 20, 2019).
There are also indications of political infighting in Meng’s case. Chen Yixin, Secretary-General of the Commission for Political and Legal Affairs of the CCP Central Committee, is reported to have written that Meng Hongwei, Wang Like, Gong Daoan, Deng Huiling, and Sun Lijun were all “two-faced persons” who seriously violated party discipline (Global Times, October 2, 2021). However, Grace Weng, the wife of Meng Hongwei, said in an interview that the case against her husband was “an example of a political disagreement being turned into a criminal affair” (AP, November 18, 2021).
These cases involved senior police officers who were seemingly involved in substantial graft, but “patient zero” in the prolonged hunt for police corruption and political loyalty during President Xi Jinping’s tenure can be considered Wang Lijun, who served under Bo Xilai, as Director of the Chongqing PSB as well as the Deputy Mayor of the city until early 2012.
Wang Lijun was officially arrested on July 22, 2012, although he had been detained since February of that year. Interestingly, officers of the Ministry of State Security (MSS) carried out Wang’s arrest, presumably because no other agency could be trusted. In September, Wang stood trial in the Chengdu Municipal Intermediate People’s Court. Wang was charged with corruption, abuse of power and attempted defection. Wang admitted all of the charges and said in court that “For the party organization, people and relatives that have cared for me, I want to say here, sincerely: I’m very, very sorry, I’ve let you down.” He was sentenced to only 15 years in prison, which included nine years for bribery, which under the circumstances of the case is shockingly lenient. For the attempted defection alone, it would have been expected that Wang would be executed, but he was clearly treated leniently for his cooperation in the case against his former boss Bo Xilai (Caixin, September 24, 2012).
The example of Chongqing demonstrated how the PSB came to be a part of the criminal problem in the PRC. In 2009, Bo Xilai started the crackdown on organized crime groups in Chongqing that were involved in gambling, prostitution, debt collection, protection, and drug dealing, all of which prospered due to the protection provided by corrupt police officers. The Chongqing crackdown led to the movement of at least 3,000 police officers in an effort to cut their links with organized crime groups. Guanxi and relationships between PSB officers became critical for advancement, with promotions and transfers being sold for up to 1.17 million yuan ($175,000). 
In January, the Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) Zhao Leji delivered his work report, which stated that his department would investigate major corruption cases that involved political gangs around corrupt officials such as Sun Lijun, Deng Huilin, Gong Daoan, Wang Like and Liu Xinyun (SCIO, January 19). Zhao reported that in 2021, 627,000 people had been punished for corruption, including 59,000 in state-owned enterprises, 12,000 in the financial system, and 64,000 in the political and legal system (which presumably includes the PSB) (Xinhua, February 24). The number of corruption cases reported in the PRC remains staggering. This volume of cases cannot only be related to settling political scores, and reported cases illustrate the real corruption that takes place at both the leadership as well as junior levels of officials.
This raises the serious question of whether corruption is endemic in the PRC amongst government officials and especially police officers. Corruption such as that exposed in Chongqing as well as among senior MPS officers is reminiscent of the pre-CCP era and hence undermines public confidence in the Party’s ability to represent and serve the people. As a result, corruption is an issue that affects the CCP’s survival and especially President Xi’s political standing. However, while the dogged pursuit of corruption cases is understandable, the extent of the problem indicates that not only are all the President’s men corrupt but many are also disloyal.
Despite the immense issues it creates, the CCP cannot simply eradicate corruption as it is an integral part of the PRC’s political system. The absolute power of the CCP can also be considered as a key reason for the continued endemic corruption in China as criticism is stifled, which prevents official transparency that would expose corruption. This situation can only be changed by a fundamental shift towards liberalism in China that would allow civil society to provide much needed checks and balances on those in power, in both government and big business. In the continued era of Xi Jinping, this is not likely to happen.
Martin Purbrick is a writer, analyst, and consultant. He spent over 32 years in Asia working in the Royal Hong Kong Police serving in Special Branch and the Criminal Intelligence Bureau, followed by senior leadership roles managing financial crime risk with several major companies. Martin is an Honorary Fellow at the Keele Policing Academic Collaboration (KPAC) of the Keele University focused on public order and criminology in Asia.
 Guo Xuezhi, China’s Security State, Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp.71-73.
 Ibid, pp.78.
 Ibid, pp.90-91.
 Peng Wang, The Chinese Mafia: Organised Crime, Corruption, and Extra-Legal Protection, Oxford University Press, 2017, pp. 144-148.