China's TV series on corrupt officials get all agog

Chinese viewers watching Always On The Road, part of President Xi's immense anti-corruption drive.
Chinese viewers watching Always On The Road, part of President Xi's immense anti-corruption drive.PHOTO: TWITTER ACCOUNT OF SIXTH TONE

BEIJING • A week before a key meeting of the Communist Party of China (CPC), China has mounted a massive propaganda blitz against graft with the airing of a new series that dishes the dirt on disgraced officials.

The new eight-part series, titled Always On The Road, takes viewers behind the scenes of some of China's most high-profile corruption cases. The first episode was aired on Monday and it proved to be a hit among Chinese viewers.

"People everywhere are talking about Always On The Road," the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party's much- feared discipline watchdog, said in a statement. It produced the series with state broadcaster CCTV.

The prime-time series will run through Oct 25, coinciding with the ruling party's sixth plenum which starts next Monday .

Two documents on strengthening party discipline will be discussed and approved at the meeting, reported Bloomberg.

"The series makes publicity preparations for the sixth plenum," said Professor Zhu Lijia, a public affairs professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance in Beijing.

"It aims to show that corruption is a deep-seated socio-economic and political problem and calls for an enduring battle," he told Bloomberg.

Law professor Yang Weidong at the Chinese Academy of Governance, a school for training senior officials, said the TV series holds lessons for party cadres.

"After watching the corrupt officials' stories, officials and CPC members will exchange their views on the lessons they will have to learn, and... regulate their own behaviour according to the new rules," China Daily quoted him as saying.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has waged a sweeping war on deep-seated corruption since assuming power almost four years ago, vowing to go after powerful "tigers" as well as lowly "flies".

Last year alone, 336,000 party officials were reprimanded or punished for graft, reported news website Sixth Tone.

Mr Xi's anti-graft campaign remains popular among average Chinese, with 83 per cent of those surveyed earlier this year by the Pew Research Centre describing corruption as a problem - a larger share than any other issue.

At the same time, 64 per cent said they believed the situation, which Mr Xi has cast as a life-and-death battle for the party, would improve over the next five years.

The first episode of the TV series was interspliced with excerpts from President Xi's speeches and opened with the courtroom confession of former security chief Zhou Yongkang, who was sentenced to life in prison last June.

Three of the so-called "tigers" get camera time in the first episode - Bai Enpei, the former party boss of south-western Yunnan province; Zhou Benshun, an ex-party chief of northern Hebei province; and Li Chuncheng, a former deputy party boss of south-western Sichuan.

Footage on Monday showed furniture and tea collected by Bai and jade jewellery gifts given to his wife, with one bracelet reportedly worth 15 million yuan (S$3.1 million).

Zhou was accused of spending more than one million yuan to employ two chefs and two domestic helpers - one tasked solely with taking care of his pets. His salary should be a little more than 100,000 yuan annually.

The programme cited his temple visits and multiple shrines as evidence of "superstitious activities" frowned upon by the officially atheistic Communist Party. When his pet turtle died, he transcribed a Buddhist text to bury with it. 

The first episode was widely discussed on Chinese social media, with some saying they found Li's tears theatrical and unconvincing, according to Reuters. Li was given a 13-year jail term last year.

Bai was given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve on Oct 9 for accepting bribes of almost a quarter of a billion yuan. That same day, Zhou was formally charged with bribery.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 20, 2016, with the headline 'China's TV series on corrupt officials gets viewers all agog'. Print Edition | Subscribe