Visualizing China’s Anti-Corruption Campaign

Guang Niu—Getty Images

A policeman tries to control crowds in Tiananmen Square on May 1, 2007 in Beijing.

Welcome to “Catching Tigers and Flies,” ChinaFile’s new interactive tool for tracking and, we hope, better understanding the massive campaign against corruption that China’s President, Xi Jinping, launched shortly after he came to power in late 2012.

Corruption is a long festering canker on both the work and popular reputation of China’s Communist Party, and one that Xi’s predecessors also sought to combat. But Xi has undertaken the task with unprecedented zeal and acumen. Scything through the Chinese Communist Party’s cadre ranks, Xi’s deputies—most prominent among them the Politburo Standing Committee member Wang Qishan and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) which he commands—have felled officials of both high and low rank, or as Xi himself put it in a memorable phrase, both “tigers and flies.” To date, tens of thousands have been swept out of office. Whether their fortunes have suffered primarily because of their corrupt acts or rather—as many both inside and outside of China argue—as a direct or indirect result of Xi’s consolidation of power remains, nearly three years into Xi’s tenure, an open and hotly debated question. Information about targets of the campaign abounds, but so too do speculation and rumor.

Meanwhile, the campaign continues. Just last week, the CCDI released a communiqué promising to maintain “unabated forces and unchanging rhythm” in pursuing the goal of a China where, as Xi put it, officials are “unable and unwilling to be corrupt.”

“Catching Tigers and Flies” is designed to give users a sense of the scope and character of the anti-corruption campaign by graphically rendering information about nearly 1,500 of its targets whose cases have been publicly announced either by the CCDI, its official media partners, or related Chinese government organs.

For the time being, we have confined this database to figures whose cases have been announced by official Chinese sources. Given the flood of available information on the campaign, this struck us as the best way to impose limits on the data we are presenting. It does mean, though, that the tool does not include some highly probable targets of the campaign whose cases have been reported widely by reputable media organizations both inside and outside of China.

At ChinaFile, we have only begun to explore the data we have collected ourselves. Our hope is that by making it available to you and to the journalists and scholars who follow the campaign most closely, we’ll help produce new insights on the ways it has been pursued thus far, and the direction it will take going forward. Below, you will find a form for submitting comments and corrections. Please make use of it.

In the meantime, a few preliminary observations drawn from our data as it stood the day we published. We update our database daily:

  • The cases we have tracked span the period from January 1, 2010 to the present. A couple dozen individuals in the database were under investigation for corruption before Xi’s rise to power, but the vast majority have fallen as a result of the campaign.

  • Of the more than 1,460 targets included in the database, the vast majority are officials at the local and provincial level. Our tool allows you to break out individuals in the fields of Mining, Petroleum, Law (and law enforcement), Media, Military, Real Estate, and Rail. But there are also sizeable groups in the fields of higher education (78) and public security (36, including Zhou Yongkang and the recently sentenced Li Dongsheng). 175 of the people in our database worked for state-owned enterprises.

  • Like Chinese officialdom itself, our database skews heavily male, with only 69 females in total. Just three women, in a pool of 146, are Tigers (those whose rank is above or equivalent to that of Deputy Provincial or Deputy Ministerial level officials).

  • One mind-boggling task our tool accomplishes is to tally up the total ill-gotten gains of people in the database convicted of corruption. We pull these figures from sentencing documents—which, in most cases, are easily accessible on the websites of Chinese courts and in the official Chinese media. To date, the sentenced individuals in our database, just 231 people, are responsible for having embezzled, stolen, taken as gifts, or otherwise misused more than 6 billion yuan, close to a billion U.S. dollars.

  • Sentencing documents often include other lurid details. Yang Yueguo, a relatively minor Yunnan official, purchased 200,000 RMB’s worth of jade jewelry using public funds. Quan Xiaohui, a municipal official in Henan, kept three mistresses. And Yan Yongxi, who once presided over Beijing’s rural Mentougou district, tried to hide his embezzled millions in his mistress’ gardening company.

  • Geographically, the cases in our database are spread throughout the whole country, but certain provinces, including Guangdong, Henan, and Shanxi (the stronghold of Hu Jintao’s former top aide, Ling Jihua) have seen the highest numbers, after Beijing, of individuals targeted. Fujian and Zhejiang, both provinces Xi Jinping once led, have now seen high-level officials toppled, but they appear to be among the provinces dealt with more leniently.

  • So far this year, the CCDI has announced 17 new investigations, including probes into several local officials, the head of the “clean and honest governance” unit of the prominent Fosun group, and a deputy director of the Beijing office in charge of Taiwan affairs, whose investigation was announced just days after Taiwan elected a new president whose party favors greater independence from the mainland.

“Catching Tigers and Flies” was built for ChinaFile by Schema, a Seattle-based design firm, and conceived by its Creative Director, Christian Marc Schmidt, and ChinaFile’s Visuals Editor, David Barreda. It is built off of a database compiled by a tireless group of ChinaFile interns and editors and we continue to update daily. We have also collected much more data than we are currently able to display, and we look forward to upgrading our tool to be able to better capture it in the coming months. We expect to continue offering insights as we update and refine the tool in the weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, we invite you to explore for yourself. —Susan Jakes

Feedback and Corrections:

We encourage users to send us feedback. If you spot an error or omission in our data or want to make a suggestion for future versions of our tool please submit the following form, or send us an email.