10 questions about China's 'luxury' Qincheng Prison answered

After being indicted in China's largest-ever corruption probe, former security head Zhou Yongkang could face the same fate as his one-time political ally Bo Xilai and end up at Qincheng Prison.

Infamous for housing the communist state's fallen elite, Qincheng Prison is also known to be well-furbished, with inmates getting to enjoy more freedom and facilities than their counterparts in other prisons.

Here are the answers to 10 questions about this unique penitentiary.

1. Where is it?

Qincheng Prison is located in Beijing's Changping district, which is an hour's drive away from the Chinese capital's centre, and near the town of Xiotangshan.

2. How did it come about?

Built in 1958 at the foot of the Yanshan mountains, the prison was one of 157 projects that the Soviet Union funded during its honeymoon period with China, and was built originally to house war criminals from the Kuomintang nationalists.

3. Who are some of the "fallen elite" that it has housed?

The prison is known to be where "purged" political leaders or high profile personnel spend their incarceration. Five such people are:

- Jiang Qing, widow of the former Chairman of the Communist Party of China Mao Zedong

- Chen Xitong, former mayor of Beijing

- Chen Liangyu, former Communist Party chief of Shanghai

- Li Jizhou, former vice-minister in Public Security

- Tian Fengshan, former minister in the Ministry of Land and Resources

4. How did it get its luxury tag?

Cells in the prison are a generous 20 sq m and have writing desks, private toilets and washing machines. Some are even reported to have private bathrooms and sofas.

Additionally, inmates are relatively well-fed, do not have to wear uniform and are allowed to read, exercise and play games.

5. What does the place look like?

The compound is divided into three sections, with one containing the jailhouses.

Within this section are four, three-storey buildings that were there from the prison's beginnings and six smaller ones, which were added in 1967.

The architecture of the cells vary according to the inmate's profile. High-ranking prisoners, for example, have two windows as compared to more ordinary inmates who have only one window.

6. Was life in there always this good?

No. Although conditions were relatively comfy when it was first built, it was only after a remodelling in the mid-1990s that Qincheng Prison looked the way it does now.

Most of the remodelling was done to accommodate a then new, but now common, breed of prisoners: senior officials.

7. How does it compare to other prisons in China?

By China's prison standards, Qincheng Prison is plush and fully deserves its "luxury" title.

Normal prisons have cells that are filled with a dozen or so inmates, most of whom are exposed to long hours of physical labour and beatings by guards.

8. Is it the only one of its kind in China?

No. There are at least two other prisons in China that boast similar standards - Jiansu Province's Yancheng Prison and Guangdong Province's Qingyuan Prison.

The former is said to even have a cocktail bar.

9. If life there is so good, then what is the point of putting criminals there?

For all its cushy interiors, Qincheng Prison is no "Club Fed" - a nickname for comfy federal prisons in the United States.

Inmates have described being mistreated and watched constantly. They are also refered to by number, not name, and have limited possessions.

So yes, life there can be a little tough.

10. What is one additional quirk about this place?

The quality of food that inmates receive are dependent on their age, crime, social status and job prior to entry.

Meals can vary from the basic rice and vegetables to extravagant servings of sea cucumber.

For more on the Zhou Yongkang case, see China's ex-security chief 'unlikely to get light sentence', say experts

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