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What Do Chinese Officials Fear Most? Shuanggui

What do Chinese officials fear? Shuanggui. This is the counter-balance to the power that Communist Party members wield.

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Shuanggui (双规) is the Chinese Communist Party’s discipline system for members who screwed up or step out of line. Without going outside the organization or seeking legal assistance, the CCP takes care of their internal problems for themselves, and this often involves a padded interrogation room. These extra-judicial proceedings occasionally descend into beat downs if the accused doesn’t confess, and occasionally there are “accidents” — which means the recipient of the blows didn’t make it.

Seriously, that’s what they call it. From the China Daily:

“An official from a State-owned enterprise in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, died accidentally while in the shuanggui process in the morning of April 9.”

When officials die during shanggui they had not been killed, they merely had accidents. This terminology just about says it all.

Shuanggui translates simply as “double regulation,” and it’s pretty much the only authority that Chinese officials need to fear. For all the perks and power these people enjoy, the counter-balance of shuanggui is always there if they go too far or step on the wrong toes.

Official in Wenzhou who had an accident during shuanggui

Official in Wenzhou who had an accident during shuanggui

“Money, power, guanxi , political clout do not make you safe because something exists above of you,” Flora Sapio, a scholar from the Chinese University of Hong Kong told the Guardian last year. “If you touch this kind of power then regardless of your status and money and prestige and pedigree – you are exactly as a political dissident or the last and least important of common criminals. In that sense everybody is truly equal: not before the law but before a power.”

Little is known outside the CCP about what actually happens during shuangui, but the NY Times did a report on it last year:

When party members are caught breaking the rules — or even when they merely displease a superior — they can be dragged into the maw of an opaque Soviet-style disciplinary machine, known as “shuanggui,” that features physical torture and brutal, sleep-deprived interrogations. Few who have been pulled into the system emerge unscathed, if they emerge at all.

“. . . hundreds of officials have committed suicide, according to accounts in the state news media, or died under mysterious circumstances during months of harsh confinement in secret locations. Once interrogators obtain a satisfactory confession, experts say, detainees are often stripped of their party membership and wealth. Select cases are handed over to government prosecutors for summary trials that are closed to the public.”

Basically, during shuanggui officials are called in for interrogation and are then forced to confess to whatever wrongdoing they have been accused of, whether guilty or not. The interrogation rooms can be formal settings with padded walls to help prevent “accidents” or just a hotel room rigged up for the occasion. Rigged up could mean paper being put over the windows and red lights turned on to create a sense of disorientation. Sleep deprivation and beatings are tactics used to garner confessions. It is not unheard of that shuanggui is used by senior party members to get rid of subordinates who offend their interests or those who obstruct their path for more power.

A model shuanggui interrogation center. Photos by Chu Zhaoxian.

A model shuanggui interrogation center. Photos by Chu Zhaoxian.

Xinhua, the Chinese government’s media mouthpiece, estimated the number of officials who have been shuanggui’ed to be around 880,000 between the years of 2003 to 2008. While only 25,000 officials were formally prosecuted during this same time period. These figures are remarkable when you consider that there are only around 80 million communist party members in total.

“It’s as if you’ve fallen into a legal black hole,” Sapio described shuanggui to the NY Times, “Once you are called in, you almost never walk out a free man.”

That’s what shuanggui is.


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Filed under: China, Politics

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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