China ’s “Great Wall of Secrecy” surrounding its politics and decision making process is as legendary as its namesake, supposedly the only man-made structure visible from space. Penetrating the wall of secrecy to stay better informed is a constant struggle not only for foreign scholars and businesses. It’s the case too for Chinese bureaucrats inside the political system who are looking for opportunities to ingratiate themselves with high-ranking leaders for career promotions, or for a get-out-of-jail card when they are in trouble. But finding the right person with direct access to decision makers can be a hazardous process, not least because Chinese leaders are zealously guarded about the privacy of their family members and relatives whose activities are off limits from any public scrutiny. This has given rise to a murky industry of power brokers who claim to be related to the incumbent or retired leaders, or their confidants, offering access or promises of career promotions in exchange for money or other favours. Some of them may tell the truth but many more appear to be con artists preying on the greed and political ambitions of bureaucrats. Beijing stopped the panic in stock markets, but it must do more For decades, these power brokers thrived in secret and profited from secrecy until recent times, when state media began writing about power brokers and so-called political grifters, as China’s President Xi Jinping wielded an anti-corruption campaign to consolidate power and dismantle factions deemed disloyal. Some power brokers are easy to spot. Many of them used to be loyal secretaries or close aides to powerful Chinese leaders and following the end of their service term, were often given important government and party positions. Sun Lijun, a former deputy minister of public security, used to be such a power broker. For years, he served as a faithful principal aide to Meng Jianzhu, who later became a Politburo member and the country’s highest-ranking official in charge of law and order from 2012 to 2017. Apparently leveraging his close connections with Meng, Sun masterminded promotions of at least four allies to senior positions at the Ministry of Public Security and top law enforcement jobs in Shanghai, Chongqing, Jiangsu and Shanxi, all economically powerful provinces and municipalities. In exchange for Sun’s support, one ally alone paid him more than 90 million yuan (US$14.15 million) in cash and corporate shares. Following Sun’s downfall in 2020, the authorities accused him of undermining the unity of the party by “displaying extremely inflated political ambition” and “forming his own clique”. In a related development, anti-graft investigators last month announced the outcome of their investigation of former justice minister Fu Zhenghua and accused him of participating in Sun’s political gang, among other things. Fu was also blasted for harbouring “extremely inflated political ambitions” and “befriending several political con artists for a long time, which caused baneful consequences”. Although the official statement did not provide any detail, that intriguing charge has set tongues wagging in official circles and even prompted several state media outlets to use it as a way of exploring the touchy subject of power brokers and political fraudsters lurking in the shadows. China should step forward and become a peacemaker in Ukraine Indeed, it is easier to understand why Fu wanted to ingratiate himself with Sun because of the latter’s political connections but it begs the obvious question of why Sun tried to maintain a long-term friendship with so-called political grifters. After all, Sun was once a powerful deputy minister of public security with unique resources at his disposal and rumoured to have executed illegal wire taps of China’s high-ranking officials for leverage. So, are these people really political grifters or were they power brokers with impeccable connections who have now been denounced as con artists to save the leadership from embarrassment? The scale and extent of the influence of these power brokers can be found in another fascinating story involving two powerful party chiefs of Yunnan province – who took office one after the other – and one power broker in particular, according to state media reports. Back in March 2003 in Beijing, Bai Enpei, then the party chief of Yunnan, dined with an unnamed high-ranking official in a restaurant, where he befriended someone named Su Hongbo, a former Yunnan official turned businessman, who entertained another group of senior Chinese officials at the adjacent table. Su reportedly introduced those officials to Bai who was duly impressed with his political connections. From then on, Bai would try to meet up with Su and talk politics every time he was in Yunnan, believing Su could help him expand his political connections in the central government. After Bai retired in 2011, his successor Qin Guangrong continued to befriend Su and helped him to obtain lucrative contracts for government-funded infrastructure projects. Moreover, Su leveraged his close relationships with Bai and Qin to secure career promotions for lower-ranking provincial officials, which further increased his allure as a power broker. Su came to be known as the “underground” chief of the provincial organisation department. hese departments at the central and local levels are responsible for the appointment of bureaucrats to positions within the Communist Party and the government. In 2016 and 2021, Bai and Qin were jailed on corruption charges. In 2020, Yunnan’s provincial anti-graft investigators published a special report on Su’s dealings in Yunnan, saying that he did not have any political background but had managed to paint himself as someone who had direct access to the leadership in Beijing. But the report did not answer how Su managed to serve as a political consigliere to both party chiefs of Yunnan for more than 15 years without blowing his cover if he was simply a political con artist. There is definitely more than meets the eye in China’s murky world of power brokers, but one may never know the full details of all that lies behind the “Great Wall of Secrecy”.