Chinese General Commits Suicide as Xi’s Corruption Crackdown Grinds On

Updated on
  • Highest-ranking official to kill self in five-year campaign
  • ‘Once-powerful general ended his life in such a shameful way’

A former member of China’s top military body killed himself while facing a corruption probe, state media said, the highest-ranking official to commit suicide during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s five-year-old anti-graft campaign.

General Zhang Yang, 66, hanged himself Nov. 23 at his Beijing home while under investigation, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday. The political affairs chief for China’s 2-million-member military was among a pair of members of the elite Central Military Commission to go missing amid corruption rumors in August as Xi moved to shake-up the army leadership.

The military’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Liberation Army Daily, criticized Zhang’s death in a commentary Tuesday. “Zhang Yang committed suicide for fear of punishment! The once-powerful general ended his life in such a shameful way,” the piece said.

The incident illustrates the continued pressure on China’s ruling elite as Xi’s corruption crackdown enters a sixth year, despite already ensnaring more than 1.5 million officials. While the government has occasionally acknowledged suicides among corruption suspects -- even announcing a review of the phenomenon in 2015 -- Zhang is the most senior official to kill himself so far.

Military Overhaul

Xi’s corruption crackdown has helped him remove potential sources of opposition during the biggest overhaul of the People’s Liberation Army in 60 years. The president pledged during a twice-a-decade party congress last month to finish building a world-class military that can fight and win wars across all potential theaters by 2050.

Besides elevating Xi to a status on par with Mao, the party agreed last month to reduce the military commission to seven from 11 members. Four members of the current panel had previously been promoted by Xi.

Xinhua said Zhang was under investigation for unspecified links to Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, two former CMC vice chairmen whom party authorities have accused of plotting to conspire against the leadership. Guo -- China’s top uniformed officer between 2007 and 2012 -- was sentenced to life in prison last year. Xu died of cancer in 2015 while awaiting court martial.

Zhang, who held the No. 6 spot on the previous military commission, dropped from public view at the same time as General Fang Fenghui, one of China’s most visible officers. While Fang has been replaced as the chief of China’s Joint Staff Department, there has been no official word on his situation.

— With assistance by Keith Zhai, Ken Wills, and Ting Shi

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