Detentions, torture, executions: how China dealt with the mafia in the past

President Xi Jinping’s latest campaign against serious crime is the latest in a series of Communist Party crackdowns on gangs, criminals and corrupt officials

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 12:49pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 10:58pm

China is to launch a campaign against organised crime and government officials who shelter criminal organisations, the latest in a series of similar initiatives by the Communist Party over the decades.

The crackdown forms part of President Xi Jinping’s sweeping campaign against corruption in China since he took office six years ago.

Several politically driven “Strike Hard” campaigns against organised crime were pursued in China since the 1980s.

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These coincided with government efforts to emphasise the rule of law and to underline the party’s authority.

The campaigns were held in 1983, 1996, 2001 and 2010. There were also smaller scale anti-crime crackdowns peppered throughout the years.

1983: China’s first major crackdown on crime

Deng Xiaoping initiated the first major crackdown on crime in 1983 as he ushered in major economic reforms in the wake of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution the previous decade.

To the surprise of many, Deng also took on a prominent princeling – a term in China for the offspring of party revolutionary veterans – during the campaign as a public sign that nobody, however well connected, was above the law.

Zhu Guohua, the 25-year-old grandson of the senior general Zhu De was put to death for hooliganism, on the same day as more than 80 criminals.

1996 & 2001: Mafia-related crimes hit a peak

Another “Strike Hard” campaign was launched in 1996 as China’s economy boomed in the years following the start of Deng’s reform and opening policy, with crimes involving arms, drugs and mafia-style gangsters hitting a peak. The third round of the “Strike Hard” in 2001 targeted surging crimes rate across the country.

2010: High-profile murder cases prompt anti-crime campaign

The anti-crime campaign of 2010 followed several high-profile murder cases, including stabbings at kindergartens and primary schools earlier that year. Dozens of elderly or disabled people in Guangdong province had also been killed by crime gangs to sell their bodies in particularly notorious cases. The buyers were people who wanted their deceased loved ones to be buried, which was banned, and offered the other corpses for cremation in their place to mislead the authorities.

Other crime crackdowns have been held at a regional or provincial level, including in Chongqing under former city party chief Bo Xilai. He is now serving a life sentence for corruption.

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He initiated a massive crackdown on crime gangs in the huge south-western municipality in 2009.

Bo, along with his police chief Wang Lijun, detained nearly 5,000 people and more than 3 billion yuan (US$473 million) in assets were seized within 10 months starting from June 2009.

The crackdown was later severely criticised, amid cases of confessions made under torture and evidence that Bo was using the campaign to target political rivals.

Several provinces followed in targeting organised crime, with some analysts suggesting the initiatives triggered the nationwide “Strike Hard” organised by the public security ministry in 2010.