How the Communist Party Weeds Out Its Delinquents

In a political party with over 80 million members, there are bound to be a few bad eggs.
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Internal Chinese Communist Party dynamics have become better known in recent years. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

In the popular mind, the life of an official in China is often associated with easy money, privilege, and a position high above the reach of the law. But there is one word in this world of easy living that can make even the most complacent official choke on his sea cucumber, and that is shuanggui - the process by which cadres suspected of serious breaches of party discipline, including acts of corruption, are investigated.

The term "shuanggui" (双规) is well known in China. A search for tweets containing the word calls forth almost 3.5 million comments on Sina Weibo alone; Baidu Baike, China's Wikipedia equivalent, has an entire entry on the subject. Yet there is little information in the public domain about how this shady process for meting out discipline is actually administered. However, an article published in June in the South Review (南风窗), a Guangzhou based magazine, provided a rare glimpse into the system responsible for bringing the Communist Party's wayward comrades to book. The story was also later featured on China's main micro-blogging portal Sina before being deleted from both locations.

The article describes a system viewed on the one hand as "the sharpest weapon for fighting corruption" and as a "fatal black hole" on the other.

It describes how this veiled system carries out its investigations in secret locations such as hotels, military bases, and even ordinary houses. Inside the rooms where interrogations take place, all sharp corners are wrapped in rubber. First floor rooms are also often chosen to prevent suicides. The interrogators are unknown to each other before they begin working on the case.

Shuanggui, which can be translated as "dual designation," refers to the power of investigators to summon party officials for questioning at any time at a location of their designation. The process lies outside the Chinese legal system, and as a result, basic guarantees which theoretically exist in the rest of the legal system do not apply. Those who enter the bowels of shuanggui find themselves totally isolated from the outside world, and are denied legal representation.

Little is known of how investigators go about extracting the confessions which frequently emerge. Suicides and mysterious deaths while under shuanggui are not uncommon. Former detainees report being subjected to simulated drowning, beatings, and cigarette burns.

In recent months, several cases of extreme brutality under shuanggui have appeared in the public domain. In April, the death of Yu Qiyi, a chief engineer at the state-owned Wenzhou Industry Investment Group who was "shuanggui'ed" upon suspicions of receiving a 2 million RMB bribe (about US$320,000) from a local company CEO, caused shock online when pictures emerged of his bruised and swollen body. Just a few weeks later, Jia Jiuxiang, a Henan court official who had found himself caught up in a property-related graft investigation, also died whilst in the custody of shuanggui. Official claims that Jia died of a heart attack were rejected by his family, who stated that he had no history of heart problems.

Natalie Thomas is a Beijing-based contributor to Tea Leaf Nation.

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