Careless talk costs lives, warned British propaganda during World War II. China’s premier in perpetuity, Xi Jinping, hasn’t gone that far, but in a conversation with delegates from Chongqing, he has indicated that impropriety by word or deed could cost careers. The president has warned against “pillow talk”, against children who try to encash their parents’ political standing, and hangers-on who might pull the leadership down into the mire. Since corruption is the subject matter of the solicitation, and not war, and since China is not known to be teeming with honeytraps, there is a compelling suspicion that something has been lost in translation. Xi’s “pillow talk” appears to allude to collusion within powerful families.
The south-western city of Chongqing has served as the backdrop for dramatic corruption cases which have altered the future of the Party. In 2013 Bo Xilai, party secretary for Chongqing — formerly minister and politburo member — was convicted of corruption and sentenced to life. The case had begun dramatically, with his wife murdering the British businessman Neil Heywood. Another politburo member and secretary for Chongqing fell last July — Sun Zhengcai, seen as a future party boss, was summarily expelled from the party for, essentially, not doing enough to erase the dark legacy of Bo.
The vengeance of Xi was terrible. Chongqing represents unfinished business in the war on corruption, and from the point of view of secretaries, it bears a jinx that’s no less implacable than the Pharaoh’s curse. It’s no fun being the top political leader of a corruption-prone city in the thick of an anti-corruption drive.