The low-profile cadre who rocketed up the ranks to take the helm of China’s new anti-graft super agency

Yang Xiaodu’s career began in the far reaches of Tibet before taking him back to Shanghai – and to the side of the man who would become president

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2018, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 March, 2018, 11:25pm

When an unassuming man was lost looking for his bus among the fleets parked near Tiananmen Square in October last year, few would have guessed that he was one of the Communist Party’s most powerful graft-busters.

Yang Xiaodu, a deputy director of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, was second only to Zhao Leji, then the newly elected head of the CCDI.

As he looked for his ride back to his hotel during the Communist Party’s national congress, the few journalists who did recognise him asked about progress on the creation of the National Supervisory Commission, a body expected to have sweeping powers to investigate state employees for corruption.

“Everything is going smoothly,” Yang said, without breaking his stride.

A day later, his name and face were more widely known when he was unexpectedly made a member of the party’s 25-strong Politburo.

On Sunday, Yang, 65, was named as the founding chief of the NSC, capping a political career that began in 1976 after he graduated from the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a degree in pharmacology.

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Yang started out as a low-ranking official in a pharmaceutical company in Naqu, a prefecture in Tibet but in a little over two decades he rose to be a vice-governor of the autonomous region, becoming one of the youngest ministerial-level officials in the country at the time.

A retired senior CCDI official who has known Yang for many years said Yang showed forbearance in

being able to weather the extreme conditions in Tibet.

From Tibet, Yang returned to his hometown of Shanghai in 2001, and by 2006 was a standing member of the party’s Shanghai committee and in charge of the city’s united front work, a role the involves reaching out to other sections of the community.

In early 2007, Xi Jinping was parachuted in to be Shanghai’s party boss, and Yang soon became one of the future president’s subordinates.

Yang’s political career really took off after 2012, the year he took over as the financial hub’s top anticorruption official and Xi became the party’s general secretary.

Yang soon found himself in the spotlight. In mid-2013, he oversaw the downfall of two Shanghai high court judges who were dismissed from their top jobs and expelled from the party for visiting prostitutes.

A year later, Yang was in Beijing and a deputy director of the CCDI, the party’s anticorruption watchdog.

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Liu Jianchao, Zhejiang anti-corruption chief and a member of the National People’s Congress, said he voted for Yang to be the head of the NSC.

“As a long-time deputy head of the CCDI, Yang has made a lot of contributions to the establishment of the NSC. The result of the election reflects the general public’s confidence in and expectations of Yang,” Liu said.

On the sidelines of the NPC, Yang suggested that his new job would be a daunting one.

“The targets have been increased by 200 per cent so, based on our experience, we know this is going to be a huge job,” he said.

Li Ling, a fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna who has studied the anti-graft campaign, said he was not entirely surprised by Yang’s appointment because Xi had been grooming him for a while.

“His promotion was fast-tracked after Xi Jinping took office. He rose from a provincial official with a deputy-ministerial rank to a member of the Politburo in a matter of four years. This is something that most officials will not even dare to have in their wildest dreams. This was an early indicator that Yang was chosen for important tasks.”

Additional reporting by Nectar Gan

Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen