Zhou Yongkang: Bold detail
Beijing, July 30 (Reuters): “Big Tiger” is gone. “Master Kang” has disappeared.
The various euphemisms Chinese media have used to describe a once powerful domestic security tsar are no longer necessary, after the Communist Party announced yesterday that it had launched a corruption investigation into Zhou Yongkang.
Confirmation of what was long known has proved a kind of catharsis for journalists, who have had to strike a balance between publishing thinly veiled reports about the sensational case and sticking to China’s censorship rules.
Although journalists have leeway to publish critical reports on crime, the environment and business practices, independent reporting on the activities of central government and Communist Party leaders is usually off limits.
That did not stop the bolder Chinese newspapers and magazines from reporting in some detail on Zhou and his allies, while the censors, in many cases, were happy to look away.
Newspapers and those using social media often got around restrictions by calling Zhou “Master Kang” — a popular brand of instant noodles that shares a character with his given name.
The “tiger” reference comes from President Xi Jinping, who has vowed to target lowly “flies” as well as high-ranking “tigers” in his sweeping anti-corruption campaign.
Such references are instantly recognisable to many readers in China, where Internet users have proved adept at crafting their own nicknames and other shorthand to communicate what censors will not allow to be spelled out.
Last seen at an alumni celebration at the China University of Petroleum on October 1, he could not be reached for comment. It was not clear if he has a lawyer. Dozens of Zhou allies have been implicated in the scandal in recent months, and several senior government officials were placed under formal investigation.
In a country where journalists must tread carefully, two words uttered by a government spokesman in March opened the door to reporting more deeply on Zhou’s case.
A reporter from the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post raised the question of Zhou’s status with a government spokesman at a news conference at the start of China’s annual parliamentary session.
Reuters reported in March that Chinese authorities had seized assets worth at least 90 billion yuan ($14.56 billion) from family members and associates of Zhou.
“Actually, I'm just like you, I’ve got information from some media reports,” the spokesman responded with a nervous grin, saying that corrupt officials would be punished regardless of their status or position. “I can only say that much,” he added.“You understand.”
The phrase “you understand” was taken by Chinese media as a signal that censors might tolerate deeper reporting of the Zhou case, analysts said. “After he uttered that phrase — ‘you understand’ — it could be felt that this very old news would ultimately be made public,” said Zhan Jiang, a professor of journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University.