The gossip which has been spread for weeks about the fall of Sun Zhengcai, a rising Chinese political star and former Chongqing party leader, was finally verified. On July 24, Xinhua, China’s official news agency, published an extremely brief statement with only 37 Chinese characters:
Given that comrade Sun Zhengcai is suspected of serious violations of discipline, the central committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) decided to have the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) to place him under investigation with a case on file.
Although the statement could hardly be shorter, it still revealed important information to observers who are familiar with the CPC’s politics.
First, the statement shows that the investigation on Sun is still within the CPC and the case hasn’t reached the judicial level. As the highest internal-control institution of the CPC, CCDI’s task is to enforce internal rules and to combat corruption within the Party. CCDI’s current head is Wang Qishan, who is believed by most Chinese observers to be Chinese President Xi Jinping’s political confidant.
Second, the statement says Sun has been placed under “a case on file.” In Chinese political language, it means that the CCDI has already acquired certain evidence against the person under investigation. According to CCDI’s official explanation, once a person is under a case on file, their problems have been preliminarily verified. Undoubtedly Sun’s political career is over.
Third, the statement claims that the decision was made by the central committee of the CPC. The wording shows explicitly that it is a “top-down” decision. The central committee is the CPC’s highest organ of authority. In addition, since August 2016, Xi has been referred to “as the core” of the central committee. According to Xinhua, since then, all the CPC members have been called on to “closely unite around… the core.”
Last, although the statement still refers to Sun as “comrade,” it is not really a good sign for Sun himself. According to the CCDI’s explanation, the title “comrade” just conveys that the person under investigation is still a party member and the investigation is only a party investigation. Also, during the party investigation, the “comrade” would be required to review the Party Constitution and their admission oath when joining the CPC. In 2012, Bo Xilai, another former Chinese politician who ended up being handed a life sentence, was also referred to as “comrade” when being put under investigation with a case on file.
Sun Zhengcai, 53, was abruptly removed from his position as the party secretary of Chongqing on July 15. Since then, the gossip about his fall had been widely spread. Prior to the removal, it was believed by most Chinese observers that Sun would be raised to become a member of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, based on his rank, experience and age.
Charlotte Gao holds a MA degree in Asian Studies. Her research interests center around East Asian topics. She has worked in the past as a news editor, reporter, and writer for multiple traditional, online, and new media outlets.