UPON Mao Zedong's death in September 1976, his estranged wife Jiang Qing tried frantically to get hold of the keys to the late leader's file cabinets. Yet Mao's nurse and alleged lover Zhang Yufeng refused to hand them over. Those shelves contained dossiers on the corruption, apostasy, and other wrongdoings of hundreds of senior cadres. Those 'black documents' were a key reason why the helmsman could impose his tyranny over allies and foes alike, and he turned to them whenever his supremacy was called into doubt. The anti-corruption campaign in China, which made international headlines with the detention of Shougang Corp executive Zhou Beifang in February, and the resignation of Beijing party chief Chen Xitong last month, has assumed the Machiavellian dimensions of Mao's last years. The big question for the post-Deng Xiaoping era: while President Jiang Zemin may have seized control of all-important personnel files, will he be as successful as Mao in using the graft issue to nail his enemies? The puzzling new twists that the latest Maoist yundong (movement) has taken suggest that Mr Jiang has been having difficulties wielding the big broom. Going by official pronouncements and media reports, the anti-corruption crusade is still in full swing. Top cadres including Politburo Standing Committee member Hu Jintao and the new party secretary of Beijing Wei Jianxing reiterated last week that the campaign of righteousness would run its course. But consider the following developments. After assuming power, Mr Wei, who is also secretary of the party's Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection, has spent much of his time inspecting vegetable markets and approving new housing for teachers. He has also reassured the hierarchy that a moratorium has been put on personnel changes. Most intriguingly, Mr Chen will, according to political sources in the capital, probably be treated with kid gloves. In spite of reports about his having been detained in the north China seaside resort of Beidaihe, he was seen last week in the Beijing party committee headquarters. These signs of a let-up in the clean-government drive does not square with Mr Wei's main brief of flushing out the dirt in the municipal machinery as quickly as possible. While orders that dozens of senior cadres cannot leave the capital pending the end of the investigations have not been lifted, a number of municipal officials have heaved a sigh of relief. Recently the propaganda machinery has made a big fuss over the fact that Western news agencies spread 'rumours' about the suicide of Liu Zhengwei, the executive vice-secretary of the party committee of central government Organs. However, the authorities have imposed a news blackout on Mr Liu, a former party boss of Guizhou province, who has not made any public appearance since late last year. According to Chinese sources, while Mr Liu is alive, he has been relieved of all party and government positions. The security apparatus also has a thick file on his alleged complicity in the shady business deals of his wife, who was executed early this year for embezzlement. However, it is now believed that Mr Liu will be allowed to enjoy an unperturbed retirement. And, at least two close relatives of Mr Deng have been briefly questioned by Beijing security personnel in relation to 'economic questions' and other matters. These relatives have to apply to the authorities for permission to leave Beijing or the country. In recent weeks, however, Mr Jiang reportedly told inner circles of the party that he would not touch the families of 'first-generation revolutionaries' in the near term. At least in the eyes of his admirers, the failure of the president to go the distance in the 'tiger-killing campaign' represents a loss of opportunity. At the beginning of the post-Deng epoch, Mr Jiang has to move fast to establish a new rapport with a disillusioned populace. While the late party chief Hu Yaobang is best remembered for righting the wrongs of the Cultural Revolution, and ousted party boss Zhao Ziyang was widely praised for his market reforms, the former party secretary of Shanghai could make his mark by waging Communist China's first bona fide campaign against 'black money'. Mr Jiang, however, has bitten off more than he can chew. As a retired party cadre put it, because of the pervasiveness of corruption, a thorough movement against it would bring down the house. 'The official reason for Chen Xitong's resignation was that he had to take moral responsibility for the economic crimes of his protege, former vice-mayor Wang Baosen,' the cadre said. 'There might soon be calls for the resignation of Jiang Zemin because of his moral responsibility for the worst outbreak of corruption in the party's history.' Mr Jiang's machinations against selected senior cadres and the princelings have met with intense opposition from different quarters. A respected party elder has criticised the Jiang administration's handling of the infamous 'pyramid investment scam' in Wuxi. Mr Wang, Mr Zhou and a cluster of princelings behind a Wuxi-based company reportedly pocketed 600 million yuan (about HK$540 million) out of the 3.3 billion yuan they had raised from gullible investors. 'Injudicious intervention by the government caused the Wuxi company to collapse prematurely, thus ensuring that most of the investors can't get their money back,' said the elder, a notable Deng ally. Other party veterans have pronounced themselves shocked by Mr Jiang's alleged harassment of the Deng clan even when the patriarch is still alive. The most important reason why Mr Jiang has slowed down his quasi-Maoist yundong, however, is that it seems to have prompted the regional 'warlords' into putting together a united front against him. Last week, the capital was awash with speculation that, after having tamed the Beijing municipality, Mr Jiang's morality squad was targeting Guangdong. Somewhat like Mr Chen, cadres in the southern province have ignored the party centre's call for prudent, non-inflationary development; they have also criticised Mr Jiang for giving all the plum jobs to members of his Shanghai Faction. Guangzhou has the backing of heavyweights such as former president Yang Shangkun, and the 'king of southern China' Ya Xuangping, a former governor of the province. After learning that Guangdong had lined up the support of numerous warlords from other regions who fear the loss of their hard-earned autonomous powers, Mr Jiang is reassessing his risky gambit.