The sudden, mysterious death of Xu Ming had all the hallmarks of the Cultural Revolution. Earlier this month, the jailed tycoon, one of the mainland’s youngest billionaires, reportedly died of a heart attack in a Hubei ( 湖北 ) prison. He was 44, nine months away from release and had told friends he was in excellent physical and mental health. Xu was the founder of conglomerate Dalian Shide but he was also an associate of princeling Bo Xilai ( 薄熙來 ), who was jailed for life two years ago for corruption. Xu’s trial was closed to the public but he testified against Bo, the former boss of Chongqing ( 重慶 ). Within days of his death, Xu’s body was cremated and his ashes handed to his shocked family. But the swiftness and the unexpected nature of his exit left a strong whiff of suspicion and recalled the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. Decades ago, countless people accused of being counter-revolutionaries died in the tumult of mob justice. Today, a rash of holders of high office and influence – from securities officials to military top brass – have died as President Xi Jinping’s ( 習近平 ) wide-ranging corruption crackdown spearheaded by the party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection rolls on into its fourth year. Among the 54 cadres who died of unnatural causes between January 2013 and April 2014, 23 committed suicide. Zhuang Deshui, deputy director of the Clean Government Centre at Peking University, said there had always been cases of cadres who committed suicide for fear of punishment, but the pressure had increased since the 18th Communist Party Congress three years ago when Xi took over as party general secretary. When Chen Hongqiao, 49, hanged himself at his Shenzhen home on October 22, he left a one-line note. The president of state-owned Guosen Securities made just one final plea: “Please leave my wife and kids alone.” He died after Beijing launched a massive campaign to hunt down those it deemed responsible for the summer stock market rout that wiped away trillions of yuan in value off stocks. Chen was not strictly a cadre, but his leadership role in the state-owned sector made him equally vulnerable to the shadowy party discipline inspection body. Chen was a former senior stock market regulator and was a deputy of Zhang Yujun, former assistant chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission. Zhang, 53, has been under investigation for “severe violation of discipline” since September 16 and is the first senior official from the regulator to be entangled in the campaign. The anti-corruption campaign has also been aimed at the People’s Liberation Army, bringing down former military chiefs Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou. Guo allegedly headed up what has been called the “Northwest faction”, a grouping that reportedly included Lieutenant General Ma Faxiang. Just over a year ago, Ma, a former deputy commissar of the navy, was reported to have committed suicide. “Except for their mental pressure, it’s also related to the way power is used in the party and the government,” Zhuang said. “If there is more supervision of their power, they might not think that power is everything, and feel so frustrated when they are stripped of it,” .