This week a number of former senior party officials, victims of Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, are starring in a new type of Chinese reality TV show.
As part of the eight-part TV series “Always on the Road,” some of China’s most notorious public officials are taking to the screen to confess to their crimes in front of the nation. Brought to Chinese viewers by CCTV and the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the show aims to divulge the unseemly details of the corruption scandals exposed by Xi’s high-profile crackdown. It first aired on Monday and will continue airing daily for the whole week, so make sure to tune in.
It will wrap up next Monday, just in time for a four-day plenary session of the Central Committee, the last major meeting before a reshuffle of central party leadership next autumn… isn’t that a coincidence?
The first episode in the series, “Feelings of the People,” re-introduced officials like Bai Enpei, the former party secretary of Yunnan province, who was arrested at his home with a pile of bribes that took CCDI staff over 10 days to scour through. The inventory of graft included a range of jade bracelets, one of which was worth 15 million yuan — apparently his wife, Zhang Huiqing, a manager at the state-owned Yunnan Power Grid had demanded one.
“Businessmen were living in fancy houses and driving luxury cars — some even had private jets. I remember realizing I wanted a life like theirs, and that was when my thinking changed,” Zhang remembers via Sixth Tone. He’s now serving a life in prison after a commuted death sentence earlier this month.
Another “guest” on the show was Li Chuncheng, a former deputy secretary in Sichuan province. Now serving a 13-year prison sentence, Li told the cameras that he regretted his greed. “Life is like a live broadcast and can’t be lived over again,” he said before breaking down into tears.
Convicted on charges of abuse of power and bribery, it was suggested in the show that Li was an ally of China’s ex-security czar Zhou Yongkang, the most senior official to be brought down by corruption-related charges in Communist Party history. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like Zhou himself will be bringing his own natural acting talent to the series, but the episode did feature scenes from Zhou’s secret trial.
While the series has earned rave reviews from Chinese state media, it seems that not everyone has been enjoying the show. Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing told SCMP that televised public humiliation echoes the dark days of the Cultural Revolution, sending a strong warning to cadres and reflecting Xi Jinping’s tightening control over the government. It also doesn’t make great TV.
But hey, maybe this is only a precursor for finer corruption-related television drama to come. Later this year, a 42-episode serial titled “In the Name of the People” is supposed to bring Xi Jinping’s crackdown on widespread government corruption into living rooms across China with a drama featuring a top official as the villain. Some have cast the series as “House of Cards with Chinese characteristics”; however, the fictional provincial leader is never seen, but only heard talking over the phone.
Seems like that might really hurt the show’s sex appeal.
Anyway, watch the first episode of “Always on the Road” and judge for yourself:
Hooked? You can follow the series here.
By Seamus Gibson