China’s Rule of Fear

CLAREMONT – China is once again gripped by fear in a way it has not been since the era of Mao Zedong. From the inner sanctum of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to university lecture halls and executive suites, the specter of harsh accusations and harsher punishment is stalking China’s political, intellectual, and business elites.

The evidence of pervasive fear is easy to discern. Since President Xi Jinping’s remorseless anti-corruption drive began in December 2012, arrests of government officials have become a daily ritual, sending shivers down the spines of their colleagues and friends.

Seniority offers little protection, as 146 fallen “tigers” (officials holding the rank of minister or provincial governor) have found out, often being hauled off without warning. A new phrase has even been added to the Chinese lexicon to describe this sudden fall from grace: miaosha, or “instant kill.”

But fear is taking an even bigger toll on lower-level officials, exemplified by proliferating reports of suicide. The media confirmed 28 such cases last year, though the actual number was most likely considerably higher. Concerned by this trend, the CCP leadership has now tasked local party organizations with gathering data on suicides by government officials since the anti-corruption drive began.