Struggling to keep pace with a recent spate of major graft cases involving ever larger sums and ever more senior officials, Chinese authorities executed a former deputy provincial governor for taking bribes, official media reported Wednesday.
Hu Changqing of southern Jiangxi province was the highest-ranking official to be put to death for corruption in 50 years of Communist rule, official reports said. He had accepted more than $650,000 in bribes between 1995 and 1999, according to the New China News Agency.
“Only killing such a flagrant criminal is sufficient to safeguard national law and appease popular indignation,” declared an editorial in today’s editions of the Communist Party’s main newspaper, the People’s Daily.
The paper called Hu’s execution “a caution to the party’s leading members, a warning to those who have still failed to correct their wrongdoing and an encouragement to the general public.”
Hu also paid out nearly $10,000 in bribes and could not explain, as required by Chinese law, how he amassed more than $190,000 in personal assets, the news agency reported. Other official reports said Hu had granted approval for construction projects, bank loans and business licenses in exchange for cash and jewelry.
According to the People’s Daily, Hu accepted the cash saying, “Now I may cost you a little money, but when I become a big official, all I’ll have to do is write a note or make a call and you’ll be raking in tens of millions.”
On Wednesday morning, residents of the Jiangxi provincial capital, Nanchang, lined the streets as a motorcade of a dozen police cars took Hu to be executed by gunshot, according to the official China News Service. Hu was sentenced to death in February, the report said, after which “people in various localities in Jiangxi clapped and cheered and ran around spreading the news.”
A deputy chief of China’s legislature and much of the government of the southern coastal city of Xiamen, implicated in separate smuggling operations, are the targets of major ongoing investigations.
Last year, 132,447 Chinese officials were prosecuted for graft, as were more than 700 anti-corruption prosecutors.
Hu’s execution was clearly timed to convince China’s legislature, now holding its annual session in Beijing, that the Communist Party is determined to police itself. In his annual report to the National People’s Congress on Sunday, Premier Zhu Rongji promised severe punishment for lawless bureaucrats. He spoke scornfully of officials who “travel, entertain and dine in a luxurious style at public expense.”
The official’s execution is “indicative of how serious a problem corruption is and the lengths leaders perceive they must go to to deal with it,” said Michel Oksenberg, a China expert at Stanford University.
But Oksenberg noted that executions alone will not solve the problem. “For the campaign against corruption to be successful, the regime will have to convince the populace that the punishments meted out have been the result of a due process of law--and not of political vendettas.”