Soviet Lessons for Chinese Purges

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – On August 1, China’s People’s Liberation Army celebrated its 88th anniversary. But the country’s 2.3 million soldiers have little to cheer about. On the eve of the anniversary, the PLA’s former top general, Guo Boxiong, was unceremoniously booted out of the Communist Party and handed over to military prosecutors to face corruption charges, including allegations that he took large bribes from fellow PLA officers in exchange for promotions. And Guo will not be the last PLA officer to face such charges.

Guo, a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, was in charge of the military’s day-to-day affairs from 2002 to 2012. His arrest follows that of General Xu Caihou, who served on the commission from 2007 to 2012, in June of last year.

Guo and Xu are not the only senior officers to have fallen since their commander-in-chief, President Xi Jinping, launched his war on corruption at the end of 2012. Based on official data, 39 generals (including Guo’s son, a major general) have already been arrested. And if there is merit to the allegations that a large number of generals bribed Guo and Xu for their promotions, it is reasonable to assume that the most wide-ranging purge of senior PLA officers since the Cultural Revolution will continue.

That is precisely the message Xi sent to the military in a recent speech to the 16th army group, for which Xu served as political commissar in the early 1990s. After vowing to eradicate Xu’s influence, “ideologically, politically, and also in terms of organization and work style,” Xi stressed that disobedience to the Party leadership would not be tolerated. The army must, Xi declared, “resolutely conform to orders from the party Central Committee and the Central Military Commission.”