China Power

In China, Today’s Heroes Are Tomorrow’s Villains

In Chongqing, a strange cycle of police heroes turned captured criminals has been playing out.

In China, Today’s Heroes Are Tomorrow’s Villains
Credit: Chinese police image via Cylonphoto /

In China, today’s hero could be tomorrow’s villain. Just look at the events in Chongqing over the past 15 years.

Wen Qiang, former police chief of Chongqing, was once a great hero — until he was arrested and executed. A native of Chongqing, Wen rose through the ranks in the police force in the municipality due to his outstanding performance. The most glorious moment in his entire career came on September 19, 2000, when Wen, then the deputy police chief of Chongqing, captured Zhang Jun, the  most wanted man in China. Zhang was suspected of murdering 28 people and seriously injuring 20 others in 22 criminal cases over the span of seven years. When his boss called to ask where this fugitive was, Wen, pressing his foot on Zhang’s face, proudly answered, “He is under my feet!”  Wen instantly became a national hero and was promoted to a scout with the chief department rank in two months. Zhang was executed for his crimes eight months later.

But from under Wen’s feet, Zhang made a prophecy: “One day, you will end up like me!”

Wen indeed ended up like Zhang. Wen was arrested nine years later and executed on July 7, 2010 for crimes of bribery, shielding criminal gangs, rape, and the inability to account for millions of dollars in cash and assets. Wen was captured on August 7, 2009 by Wang Lijun, the then-police chief of Chongqing and another famous hero. Wang was more civilized — he did not put his foot on Wen’s face but had a 50-minute conversation with Wen one day before his execution.

It is not clear what exactly the two said to each other, or whether Wang made a prophecy like Zhang Jun’s. Regardless, Wang ended up almost like Wen, just as Wen shared in Zhang’s fate. A little over one year after Wen’s execution, Wang was involved in a murder case in which a British citizen, Neil Heywood, was allegedly poisoned to death. Wang was then dismissed as Chongqing’s police chief on February 2, 2012 and fled to the United States consulate in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, four days later. Wang was taken away by Ministry of State Security staff after 30 hours in the consulate and was subsequently tried and convicted on charges of abuse of power, bribery, and defection in September 2012. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

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The person who escorted Wang Lijun from Chengdu to Beijing was Qiu Jin, the vice minister of State Security. In January 2015, rumors emerged that Qiu had been taken away by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection for a corruption investigation. But Qiu’s name soon appeared in the People’s Daily as an author of an article on the implementation of a new law on espionage. It was interesting timing — the law had been adopted on November 1, 2014 but the article was published three months later, on February 12, 2015.

Born on December 26 (Mao Zedong’s birthday), 1954, Qiu graduated from Remin University of China with a major in the history of the Chinese Communist Party. He worked in the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League under Hu Jintao and Li Keqiang in the early 1980s and was appointed deputy secretary of Beijing Youth League Committee in June 1987. He joined the Ministry of State Security in 2000 as a bureau chief when Jia Chunwang, former secretary of the Beijing Youth League and former minister of state security, reportedly exerted influence in his capacity as the minister of public security. Qiu was promoted to assistant minister in 2002 and has been identified as a vice minister of State Security, where he has been in charge of espionage since October 14, 2009. He was due to retire on December 26, 2014 when he turned 60, the retirement age for officials of the vice-ministerial rank. There has been no official confirmation yet that Qiu is under investigation for corruption.

In 2000, Wen Qiang became a hero by capturing Zhang Jun. But 10 years later Wen was executed as a villain. In 2009, Wang Lijun seized Wen as a hero. But three years later, he too was a villain, sentenced to 15 years in prison. This cycle of heroes becoming villains will likely end with Qiu Jin, who took Wang away in February 2012. But don’t be surprised if it is announced one day that Qiu has been placed under investigation for corruption.