Assassination Rumors in China

Bao Tong, the former high official who is still under house arrest in Beijing, has just called on the Party to release information on the investigation of Zhou. China’s ruling organization is unlikely to do so, and we may not learn for years -- perhaps decades -- whether Zhou was a participant in an attempt to overthrow Xi. Yet even if the rumors are untrue, the fact that stories of this sort are circulating in the Chinese capital is an indication that people want to, among other things, destabilize the Party or do in the former internal security czar.

At the time of the “shirtsleeves summit” between President Obama and Xi Jinping this June, the White House went out of its way to convince major American media outlets -- most notably the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times -- that the Chinese leader had quickly consolidated power. In light of the persistent coup rumors this year, that conclusion seems, at best, premature.

And Xi is still not secure. In recent weeks he may have decided that he would be safe only when Zhou was under lock and key. And, if so, China’s supremo was undoubtedly right. Zhou, after all, has been likened to Lavrentiy Beria, Stalin’s secret police chief.

Yet there are even better historical comparisons. “He’s a lot like those of the ruthless era of ancient Chinese palace politics,” said Zhu Jianguo, a Shenzhen-based political commentator. Beijing today has the feel of a century ago, the late Qing dynasty. From China’s last imperial period, the country is now coming full circle. After a brief period of apparent stability, we are, in the next weeks and months, bound to hear of more end-of-dynasty intrigue.

In Beijing today, there are tales of conspiracy, struggle, coup, and murder. China looks like it is entering another dark period.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage created using multiple images.)