The Communist Party: The gatekeepers | The Economist

IN RECENT days government office-workers around China have been called into meetings to study an article written nearly a quarter of a century ago by an obscure local leader on how to be a good secretary. Its advice—act modestly and don’t abuse your position for profit—would be banal were it not for the job the author now holds. The article was written by the current president, Xi Jinping. Those attending know full well that the purpose of the meetings is not to share tips on how to keep bosses happy, but to focus minds on a bigger issue: that personal assistants to leaders are often hugely powerful and sometimes just as hugely corrupt. And Mr Xi wants to rein them in.

A string of detentions has shed new light on the power of mishu, as these assistants are known. Between June and February, news emerged of investigations into four former mishu of Zhou Yongkang, a retired member of the Communist Party’s supreme body, the Politburo standing committee. Although the party does not say so, it is an open secret that Mr Zhou is the main target of China’s biggest anti-corruption campaign in years. He is the first person of standing-committee rank to face a corruption inquiry since the party came to power in 1949. Mr Xi appears not to want state-controlled media to mention Mr Zhou or his sins until a case against him is fully prepared. But the mishu, along with several other associates of Mr Zhou who have been detained in recent months, have become fairer game.

The alleged offences of the “mishu gang”, as the four have been dubbed in the Chinese press, appear to relate at least partly to activities after they left Mr Zhou’s service. In China a personal assistant to a high-ranking leader is often chosen by the leader himself—sometimes plucked from obscurity—and retains high rank even after his boss has moved to a different job (if he is not taken along to the new post).

There is plenty of scope for corruption as a mishu, because of the control the job gives over access to the leader. There is also great opportunity for acquiring independent power. Mr Zhou’s four former secretaries went on to take up high-ranking positions in government and state-owned business. Knowing the dark secrets of their former bosses gives ex-mishu a useful bargaining chip in acquiring plum jobs. The former bosses can benefit from placing their one-time confidants in positions they wish to influence.

via The Communist Party: The gatekeepers | The Economist.

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