In just the second case since late 2022 of a graft probe against a standing official at the provincial level, Zhang Jianchun (张建春), a deputy minister at the CCP’s powerful Central Propaganda Department, was accused on Friday of “severe violations of discipline and law” — a signal that a corruption investigation is underway.

The decision was announced through the website of China’s top anti-corruption body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, but no details of the alleged crimes were given. The news was reported widely across Chinese-language outlets overseas, including Taiwan’s United Daily News and RFI.

Zhang, 59, had a lengthy career in the CCP’s Organization Department, the body that essentially serves as the human resources heart of the Party, arranging for official appointments and personnel assignments. In November 2018, he was briefly promoted to deputy minister in the department, before being transferred in 2020 to the Central Propaganda Department (CPD). 

According to official sources, a meeting was held in the Central Propaganda Department on Friday evening, during which Minister of Propaganda Li Shulei (李書磊) conveyed the seriousness of the allegations against Zhang. A brief release on the gathering stated only that “comrades at the meeting unanimously expressed their support for the decision of the CCP Central Committee to conduct the disciplinary examination and supervisory investigation into the suspected serious disciplinary violations of Zhang Jianchun.”

Since Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012, two senior propaganda officials have faced investigation for corruption. At left, Liu Jianchun; at right, Lu Wei, former head of the Cyberspace Administration of China.

As a deputy minister responsible largely for the news and publishing sector, Zhang appeared publicly in a largely ceremonial capacity. In the wake of the 2022 CCP congress he presided over a gathering of publishing houses to stress the importance of releasing published teaching materials about Xi Jinping’s political report. The month before he had officiated at a gathering of Party-run newspaper publishers, where he blandly emphasized the importance of adhering to the leadership of “comrade Xi Jinping as the core.” 

Prior to the news of his downfall, Zhang Jianchun had not made a public appearance in two months. On April 17, he met with the visiting director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Kathi Vidal. His last appearance was on April 23, when he attended a youth reading forum.

Zhang is just the second provincial-ranked, or shengbuji (省部级), official to “fall off his horse” (落马) — list being the colorful phrase in Chinese for being sacked for corruption — since the 20th National Congress of the CCP in October 2022. He is the first senior official from within China’s propaganda system to fall from grace since the arrest in 2017 of Lu Wei (鲁炜), China’s colorful first czar of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). Like Zhang a deputy minister in the CPD, Lu was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2019. 

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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