One vanished into the predawn darkness—an able-bodied man whisked from his luxury hotel room in a wheelchair, a blanket covering his head. He hasn’t been seen publicly in the five years since. Others fall out of view, then reemerge months or years later to face a trial. They’re members of an elite club they never wanted to join: business tycoons who’ve become targets of the Chinese Communist Party’s opaque legal system.
In 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping justified sweeping new powers for detentions, citing a desire to “improve the party’s ability to purify itself.” In a social media post at the time, China’s anticorruption watchdog said the party must control the justice system to avoid “the trap of law” and “the trap of democracy.” In January the agency reinforced its pledge to “show no mercy” in breaking the ties between money and power.