|6th Secretary of the CPC Central Political and Legislative Committee|
October 22, 2007 – November 21, 2012
|General secretary||Hu Jintao|
|Preceded by||Luo Gan|
|Succeeded by||Meng Jianzhu|
|Minister of Public Security of China|
December 2002 – October 2007
|Preceded by||Jia Chunwang|
|Succeeded by||Meng Jianzhu|
|Secretary of the CPC Sichuan Province Committee|
January 2001 – December 2002
|Preceded by||Xie Shijie|
|Succeeded by||Zhang Xuezhong|
|Born||Zhou Yuangen (周元根)
December 1942 (age 71)
Wuxi, Jiangsu, Republic of China
|Political party||Communist Party of China|
|Alma mater||Suzhou High School
Beijing Petroleum Institute
Zhou Yongkang (born December 1942) is a retired senior leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC). He was a member of the 17th Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), China's highest decision-making body, and the Secretary of the Central Political and Legislative Committee between 2007 and 2012. In that position, Zhou oversaw China's security apparatus and law enforcement institutions, with power stretching into courts, prosecution agencies, police forces, paramilitary forces, and intelligence organs.
Zhou rose through the ranks of the Communist Party through his involvement in the oil and gas industry, starting as a technician on the Daqing oil field during the Cultural Revolution. He was at the helm of the China National Petroleum Corporation between 1996 and 1998, then became Minister of Land and Natural Resources until 1999, and subsequently Party chief of Sichuan, then China's second most populous province. Zhou was a State Councillor from 2003 to 2008 and also a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee. He served as the Minister of Public Security from 2002 to 2007, before being promoted to the PSC.
Zhou retired at the 18th Party Congress in 2012. Since late 2013, Zhou has been under investigation for alleged abuse of power and corruption. State media announced the decision to investigate Zhou for "serious disciplinary violation" on July 29, 2014. Zhou is the first Politburo Standing Committee member – and the most senior-ranked official – since the beginning of Communist rule in China to be investigated for corruption.
Born Zhou Yuangen (Chinese: 周元根) in December 1942, Zhou Yongkang is a native of Xiqiantou Village (Chinese: 西前头村), Wuxi County, in Jiangsu province. Xiqiantou has some 500 years of history, and is located 18 kilometers outside of Wuxi's city proper. The majority of Xiqiantou residents were surnamed "Zhou". Zhou took on the surname of his mother because his father, whose surname was Lu, was a 'live-in son-in-law' of his maternal grandparents. Upon joining the Zhou household when he married, Zhou Yongkang's father took on his wife's surname and became known as Zhou Yisheng (Chinese: 周义生). Zhou was the eldest of three sons. Zhou's family was poor; his family made a living farming and fishing the Asian swamp eel. Zhou was sent to school with the financial assistance of his family friends. In 1954, Zhou was enrolled at one of the two top middle schools in the eastern Wuxi area. It was during this period that Zhou changed his name to "Yongkang" on the advice of his teacher, because there was another person in his class with an identical name.
Zhou excelled at school, and was eventually accepted to enroll at the prestigious Suzhou High School, one of the most prominent secondary schools in the Jiangnan region. Zhou had good grades and was involved in extra-curricular activities, including the school's political ideology group as well as the events promoting literacy. In 1961, after obtaining stellar results on his Gaokao exams, he was admitted to the Beijing Institute of Petroleum (now China University of Petroleum) in Beijing soon after, and became the pride of his village. He majored in geophysical survey and exploration.
In November 1964 Zhou became a card-carrying member of the Communist Party of China. In 1966, the Cultural Revolution ensnared Beijing's higher education institutions. Zhou was told by the authorities to "wait for an assignment" while the political struggles wreaked havoc on China's universities. He waited for a year. He joined geological survey work in north-east China in 1967, assigned to become an intern technician at factory No. 673 at the Daqing oil field. In 1970, Zhou was promoted to lead the geological survey division of a local department charged with carrying out am ambitious petroleum drilling initiative set out by the Party's top leadership.
Oil exploration in Liaoning
In 1973, Zhou Yongkang was promoted to head the Geophysical Exploration Department of the Liaohe Petroleum Exploration Bureau, located in Panjin, Liaoning. Liaohe would eventually become one of the China National Petroleum Corporation's (CNPC) largest oil fields. Zhou was seen as a hard-working and emotionally mature presence to his colleagues; he did not drink or smoke, and would rarely speak based on script. He would reputedly talk unscripted for hours on end while keeping his colleagues engaged.
At Liaohe, Zhou met Wang Shuhua (Chinese: 王淑华), a factory worker from Hebei province, whom he later married. As the Liaohe exploration team grew, Zhou eventually became responsible for over 2,300 employees in his department. His work consisted mainly of leading teams to unexplored, barren territory to conduct site surveys to assess the potential for future oil drilling. He was known to be great at maintaining good interpersonal relationships with his superiors and subordinates, and gained significant personal clout. During some years, Zhou did not go back to his home in Jiangsu even during the Chinese New Year holiday period, which is a time traditionally reserved for family reunions. Instead, Zhou would visit his colleagues who were working in harsh winter conditions in remote areas. Beginning in the 1970s, Zhou would gain rapid career advancement. He owed much of his career growth to his mentors from the Beijing Institute of Petroleum, who were working in executive positions at the Liaohe oil fields at the time. In particular the university's president was known to be fond of Zhou's skills and was eager to promote him. In 1983, with the director of the Liaohe Oil Field Management Bureau being transferred for a job in Beijing, Zhou was promoted to manage day-to-day affairs of the oil field. Moreover, given the oil field's prominence in the municipal affairs of the city of Panjin, Zhou became concurrently the Mayor of Panjin and the city's deputy party secretary. Zhou's stint as mayor was his first major role in government.
By the mid-1980s he was vice minister of the petroleum industry, and from 1996 general manager (chief executive) of the CNPC, China's largest energy company. In 1998 he was Minister of Land and Resources and in 1999, secretary of the Communist Party of China Sichuan Provincial Committee. During his tenure as Minister of Public Security, he was a reformer of China's policing system, aiming to create a more professional police force, even going as far as to fire several hundred police officers for drinking problems. His time in Sichuan and as Public Security Minister made him noticed by the party's central authority, and in 2007 he was transferred to fill the vacancy from Luo Gan, who retired in the party's political and legislative affairs committee, and was responsible for China's courts, police, paramilitary and various domestic state security and spying agencies.
Several leaked U.S. diplomatic cables from Wikileaks have alleged Zhou's involvement in Beijing's cyber attack against Google, though the claim's veracity has been questioned. Other cables said it was "well-known" that Zhou Yongkang controlled the state monopoly of the oil sector.
Zhou was ranked 29th in the 2011 Forbes Magazine's List of The World's Most Powerful People, with controlling interests in the oil and private security sectors.
Aftermath of Bo Xilai's ouster
In February 2012, former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun made an abrupt and unexpected visit to the United States consulate in the city of Chengdu. The event set off a political storm which eventually resulted in the ouster of Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai. Bo, considered a political ally of Zhou, was rumoured to be next-in-line to Zhou's powerful position of Legal and Political Committee (Zhengfawei) Secretary, and thus the Standing Committee. Zhou had a close relationship with Bo, and he was reportedly acquainted with Wang Lijun as far back as his early days as mayor of Panjin. On Zhou's 2010 visit to Chongqing, he publicly endorsed Bo's "Red Songs" and "Strike Black" campaigns (Chinese: 唱红打黑), showing enthusiasm unmatched by his other Standing Committee colleagues. In March, the Standing Committee moved to remove Bo from his positions, a decision which Zhou alone was said to have resisted.
In the days following Bo Xilai's fall, rumours circulated about Zhou's break with the party leadership as well as a "coup d'etat" on March 19. Unconfirmed reports surfaced on the U.K.-based Sunday Times, citing Hong Kong magazine Frontline (Chinese: 《前哨》), that the paramilitary forces under Zhou's disposal had narrowly avoided direct conflict with the 38th Army in the center of Beijing. Outwardly, Zhou appeared to be toeing the party line between March 2012 and his scheduled retirement in November. On May 14, 2012, the Financial Times reported that Zhou had relinquished the operational control of the party's Political and Legal Affairs Commission to Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu due to his support for Bo Xilai, and had lost his right to select his successor when he retires from the Politburo Standing Committee in the fall of 2012. The New York Times later reported that Zhou's status remained unchanged. At around the same time, a group of provincial party veterans from Yunnan province penned an open letter to President Hu Jintao calling for the removal of Zhou Yongkang due to his support of Bo Xilai. The veterans voiced concerns that those supporting Bo intended to reinstate Mao-style policies in China.
Zhou retired at the 18th Party Congress held in November 2012, an event which saw Xi Jinping ascend to become China's top leader. In a significant change to China's top ruling council, Zhou's Political and Legal Affairs Committee portfolio did not feature in the new Standing Committee at all; instead, the Committee had shrunk to it's pre-2002 size of seven instead of nine members. This was followed by a nationwide 'exorcism' of representation of the Political and Legal Affairs Committees from their provincial and municipal party councils, signaling that the vast internal security apparatus that bloomed under Zhou was to be reined in with China's new political landscape.
In 2013, Zhou appeared in public three times. He visited his alma maters, the Suzhou High School and the China University of Petroleum in April and October, respectively; on June 23, Zhou visited the Zibo, Shandong-based Qilu Petrochemicals Company (Chinese: 齐鲁石化公司), a subsidiary of Sinopec. His visit to Suzhou High School also marked his final pilgrimage to his hometown. During this visit, Zhou alluded that it may be his last visit home. At his visit to the China University of Petroleum campus, Zhou publicly 'pledged his allegiance' to General Secretary and President Xi Jinping, China's new leader, rallying students to unite behind Xi to pursue the "Chinese Dream."
Consensus among party leaders
The new party leadership under Xi reportedly began planning the crackdown on Zhou beginning in 2012. Xi's 'tough talk' on corruption began immediately after his ascension to the post of General Secretary. In his first days in office, Xi vowed to crack down to "tigers and flies", meaning both extremely powerful as well as petty officials. Xi moved quickly to set a new standard for expected behavior of party officials, issuing a series of guidelines to clean up the party bureaucracy. Xi may have also been concerned Zhou may use his influence and power to turn various state security entities into tools for advancing his interests, and in the process undermined the central authority of the state.
Discussions surrounding the Zhou case took place in the summer of 2013. In June, the Politburo of the Communist Party of China held a four-day long conference in Beijing specifically to discuss Zhou Yongkang. During the meeting the members of China's ruling council reportedly exchanged differing viewpoints on Zhou. Eventually Xi Jinping and the other six members of the newly minted 18th Politburo Standing Committee came to consensus to investigate Zhou.
Zhou's case would be unprecedented, as no corruption investigation has ever been initiated against a member of the elite Politburo Standing Committee. The last PSC member to be ousted politically was Zhao Ziyang in the aftermath of Tiananmen in 1989, and the last PSC members to be put on trial were those of the Gang of Four following the Cultural Revolution.
Owing to the far-reaching impact Zhou's case would have on the party as well as the potential for intra-party conflict, Xi also reportedly sought the blessing of former Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao as well as other 'party elders'. Jiang was said to have met with Xi several times in Beijing between June and July to discuss Zhou Yongkang. During these meetings, Xi was said to have directly elaborated on Zhou's purported crimes to Jiang, as well as convinced Jiang of the potential harm to the party and the state if Zhou is not brought down. Jiang, though initially reluctant, eventually threw his weight behind Xi. Jiang subsequently applauded Xi's leadership skills during a visit by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Hu Jintao was reportedly fully supportive of investigating Zhou prior to his power transition to Xi Jinping at the 18th Party Congress. Zhou himself reportedly sought two audiences with Xi, during which he discussed his contributions to the country with the President and attempted to plead clemency, to no avail.
In August 2013, the Party's disciplinary organs opened up a corruption investigation into Zhou. A number of Zhou's former subordinates who were then in high-ranking positions were sacked in quick succession. These included Li Chuncheng, a former deputy party secretary in Sichuan; Jiang Jiemin, former chief executive of China Petroleum; Li Dongsheng, former deputy minister of Public Security; Ji Wenlin, Mayor of Haikou and Zhou's former secretary; and Li Chongxi, a high-ranking official in Sichuan province.
In December, Zhou, his son Zhou Bin and his daughter-in-law Huang Wan were taken into custody. The home of Zhou's younger brother Zhou Yuanxing (Chinese: 周元兴) were searched by the authorities twice. Yuanxing died in December 2013 after a battle with cancer. Zhou Yongkang and his son Zhou Bin were not present at the funeral, fuelling speculation that Zhou and his family members were all under custody.
Based on reports, Zhou’s family allegedly made billions of dollars by investing in the oil industry, of which Zhou headed the industries largest oil and gas company, China National Petroleum Corp. According to the Hong Kong-based Apple Daily, Zhou’s eldest son made more than USD$1.6 billion from public works in the city of Chongqing alone. He also supposedly used his father’s prominence to extort millions of dollars in protection fees from various businesses and organizations.
By March 2014, Chinese authorities were reported to have seized assets worth at least 90 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) from Zhou's family members and associates.
Chinese and international media were rife with speculation about the fate of Zhou Yongkang. At a press conference during the March 2014 national meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a reporter from Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post directly asked the spokesperson what he thought about Zhou's case. The spokesman gave a canned party-line reply, followed by the phrase, "this is all I am going to say, I think you know what I mean." (Chinese: 你懂的) The phrase circulated widely on social media.
On July 29, 2014, state media formally announced an investigation into corruption charges against Zhou Yongkang.
Zhou Yongkang has two sons, Zhou Bin (Chinese: 周滨) and Zhou Han (Chinese: 周涵), with his first wife, Wang Shuhua (Chinese: 王淑华), whom he met while working in the oil fields of Liaoning province. Wang reportedly died in a car accident. After Wang died, Zhou married Jia Xiaoye (Chinese: 贾晓烨), a former reporter and television producer at CCTV-2, who is 28 years his junior. Jia is known to maintain a low profile. In 2013, overseas Chinese news websites Mingjing and Boxun both reported that Zhou Yongkang had conspired with his secretary to kill Wang. The credibility of these reports have been questioned.
Zhou's son, Zhou Bin, born in 1972, was a prominent oil and gas executive. The younger Zhou was the primary shareholder and Chairman of a company called "Beijing Zhongxu Yangguang Energy Technology Holdings Ltd. (Chinese: 北京中旭阳光能源科技股份有限公司, abbr. Zhongxu)". Zhou Bin has been under detention since December 2013 over allegations of illegal dealings in the Sichuan oil industry. The younger Zhou is married to Chinese-American Huang Wan (Chinese: 黄婉), whom he met while studying oil and gas exploration in Texas. Huang's mother, Zhan Minli (Chinese: 詹敏利), held a stake in a number of companies with business dealings with China National Petroleum. Zhan Minli lives in southern California.
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|Party political offices|
|Communist Party of China Sichuan Secretary
|Secretary of CPC Central Political and Legislative Committee
|Minister of Land and Resources
|Minister of Public Security
|Order of precedence|
|9th Rank of the Communist Party of China
17th Politburo Standing Committee