Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The man that was once in charge of China’s internet is now under investigation for alleged corruption.
Lu Wei, 57, was the head of the powerful Cyberspace Administration of China for three years until he surprisingly stepped aside as the country’s famous net czar last year. He now works as a deputy director of the Communist Party’s Publicity Department.
On Tuesday, China’s top anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), announced that it had opened an investigation into Lu for “serious violations of party discipline” — CCP parlance for corruption. He becomes the first senior official to be probed since the end of the 19th Party Congress. Once an investigation is opened, officials are as good as convicted, expelled, and jailed.
Sources have told Caixin that several of Lu’s associates and other officials in charge of internet regulation have also been taken into custody for questioning by the CCDI.
Lu was last seen in public on state TV in late October, speaking with officials at Yan’an University. A city in central Shaanxi province, Yan’an is where the Chinese Communists finally found a home after fleeing from Kuomintang forces on the Long March. At the revolutionary holy site, Lu advised officials to “abide by party chief Xi Jinping’s vision,” Caixin reports.
This is quite the fall from grace for Lu who made Time’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in 2015 following a high-profile tour of the US in December 2014 during which he met with a number of American tech titans. At his visit to the Facebook offices in Menlo Park, Mark Zuckerberg infamously showed Lu his copy of Xi Jinping’s The Governance of China, praising the Chinese president’s book, adding that he had bought copies for his colleagues as well.
Lu Wei, now under investigation for violating party discipline, i.e. corruption, in happier times. pic.twitter.com/v8oLjgoPxO
— Chris Buckley 储百亮 (@ChuBailiang) November 21, 2017
After that, Zuckerberg was photographed meeting and speaking with Lu multiple times.
Causing Chris Buckley of the New York Times to joke.
I wonder whether Facebook etc. will join the Chinese government and Communist Party departments that now revile Lu Wei, swearing they always knew he was bad news, vowing to stamp out his malign influence, expunging his name and image from their websites, etc etc. pic.twitter.com/W5QobuUWO4
— Chris Buckley 储百亮 (@ChuBailiang) November 22, 2017
Lu was born in eastern Anhui province and managed to rise up the ranks by working at China’s official Xinhua news agency for two decades before going on to become a Beijing vice-mayor in 2011, overseeing the city’s publicity department. A strong proponent of so-called “internet sovereignty,” Lu won the job of China’s internet regulator by arguing that the party urgently needed to enforce more control on the internet and, in particular, social media, initiating an unprecedented widespread crackdown on online discussion that has continued with his successor.
At the Wuzhen Internet Conference in 2015, Lu denied the existence of internet censorship in China, saying: “It is a misuse of words if you say ‘content censorship.’ But no censorship does not mean there is no management. The Chinese government learned how to manage the internet from developed Western countries, we have not learned enough yet.”