Shanghai police chief falls in Xi Jinping’s latest purge

Domestic News

Announced in July, a campaign to clean up China’s police and criminal justice systems has taken down its most senior official yet.

illustration of xi jinping and two hammers
Illustration by Derek Zheng

Chén Yīxīn 陈一新 is Secretary-General of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the powerful Chinese Communist Party organization that oversees the police and justice system. On July 8 this year, he gave a speech (in Chinese) at a meeting of the Commission announcing a new rectification campaign to clean up domestic security and criminal justice organizations.

Chen is a trusted adjutant of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平: They worked together in Zhejiang between 2002 and 2007, and Xi sent Chen to Wuhan in February this year to take command of the city’s COVID-19 response.

  • Chen signaled the seriousness of the campaign with a grim metaphor, calling for the security system to “turn the knife inward and shave the poison off the bone” (刀刃向内、刮骨疗毒 dāorèn xiàng nèi, guā gǔ liáo dú).

The purge began swiftly: “Within the first week after the call to action, Communist Party enforcers had launched investigations into at least 21 police and judicial officials…Dozens more have since been taken down, including the police chief of Shanghai, the most senior target thus far,” reports the Wall Street Journal. The police chief, Gōng Dàoān 龚道安, is also the vice mayor of Shanghai.

Why is this happening now?

“Such campaigns have become an enduring feature of Xi’s almost eight-year tenure as China’s top leader, with more than 3 million cadres ensnared in corruption probes as of January,” notes Bloomberg. But why now?

  • “Some analysts” say, according to the Wall Street Journal report, that Xi “appears keen to tighten his grip over agencies vital to maintaining social stability and upholding his personal authority” as he confronts the economic disruptions of COVID-19 and a rapidly deteriorating relationship with the U.S. and other countries.
  • Purging the security forces into submission also gives Xi “more leverage as he positions himself to secure a third term as Communist Party leader in 2022, said Wu Qiang, a Chinese politics researcher and former lecturer at Beijing’s Tsinghua University,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Chen’s speech that launched the campaign “signaled as much,” notes the Wall Street Journal, when he compared the current campaign to “the 1942-1945 Yan’an Rectification Movement — a purge that consolidated Mao Zedong’s control over the Party.”