China Power

The Downfall of Su Shulin and Its Implications for Chinese Politics

Recent Features

China Power

The Downfall of Su Shulin and Its Implications for Chinese Politics

The downfall of a rising political star sends a strong message to other provincial governors in China.

On October 7, the last day of China’s National Day holiday week, it was announced that Su Shulin, governor of Fujian Province, is being investigated for “serious violations” of party discipline.

A native of Shandong, Su had been a rising political star in China. Born into a family of seven children in Kedong County in Heilongjiang, a province in northeastern China bordering Russia, Su came from a peasant family. His father passed away in 1976 when he was only 14 years old. Three years later, at the age of 17, he was admitted to the Daqing Petroleum Institute through national college entrance exams.

Upon graduation in July 1983, he launched a long and very successful career in the petroleum industry. Three months after he was hired as an intern, Su was sent to the Daqing Research Institute of Exploration and Development for training. He was appointed head of the Geology Group of the Longhu Pao Experiment Zone of the Daqing Oilfield in 1984 and was recruited as a member of the Chinese Communist Party in December 1985.

He was appointed deputy director of the Geology Research Institute of No. 9 Oil Production Factory of the Daqing Oilfield Management Bureau in October 1986 and received promotions at least once every two years. In 1983, he was just an intern in an experiment zone of the Daqing Oilfield Management Bureau. Thirteen years later, in January 1999, he became its head.

Su began a promising political career in November 2002 when he was elected as an alternate member of the Central Committee at the 16th National Party Congress. At the age of 40, he was deputy general manager of the China National Petroleum Corporation and Vice President of PetroChina Company Limited as well as chairman, general manager, and party secretary of the Daqing Oilfield Company.

In September 2006, Su was transferred to Liaoning as its standing member of the provincial party committee under the leadership of Li Keqiang (then the provincial party secretary and now China’s premier). Su was made director of the Organization Department of the Provincial Party Committee one month later. But eight months later, he was appointed president and party group secretary of Sinopec Group Company, replacing the corrupt Chen Tonghai.

After Xi Jinping had secured his position as the heir to President Hu Jintao in 2010, Su was transferred to Fujian in March 2011. He was made acting governor in the next month and became governor in July of that year. He was elected as a full member of the 18th Central Committee in November 2012. At the age of 50, working as the governor of Fujian, a province where the new Party boss had worked for more than 17 years, Su seemed to have a bright political future ahead. Nevertheless, without any prior warning, his political career ended suddenly.

It is interesting to note that the news of Su’s downfall has already won praises from the institution that conducted the investigation. According to the newspaper of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the timely news release on Su’s downfall is highly praise-worthy: the move has a strong deterrent effect on the one hand and is extremely popular among the party members and among the people on the other.

Consistent with Xi’s statement that his anti-corruption campaign is not about power struggles, the Chinese official media has mostly dismissed Su’s connections with Zhou Yongkang, the former Politburo Standing Committee member who spent most of his early career in the petroleum industry.

There is some truth in this assessment. Although the two worked in the same industry for 12 years, they had no overlap in their careers. Zhou Yongkang was deputy general manager and general manager of the China National Petroleum Corporation from 1988 to 1998 but he was transferred to the Ministry of Land and Resource in March 1998. Ten months later, Su began his tenure as deputy general manager of the China National Petroleum Corporation. Yet Su must have worked very closely with some of Zhou’s associates in the same industry.

Most importantly, the fact that Su is the first incumbent governor to be sacked for corruption in China and that he is from Fujian province, Xi’s old stomping grounds, has sent a clear signal to governors of other provinces that Xi is determined to terminate corruption in the Party.