Swept Up


汉语世界(The World of Chinese) 2019年3期

Emily Conrad

Chinas anti-mafia campaign has local government enthusiasm running amok.

Doctors are one of Chinas most “black-hearted” professions, at least according to the government of Weitang county in Jiangsu province.

“Theres no way out—you have to choose between life and money,” claimed a brochure about “evil forces” published by the county in April 2019, which included a cartoon of a disgruntled patient chastising his physician. After sparking public outrage, the county government apologized and fired four officials in charge of the project.

Weitangs gaffe aside, Chinese authorities are already claiming overwhelming success to the saohei (掃黑, quite literally “sweeping away black”) movement, as President Xi Jinpings three-year “Clean Up Gang Crime and Eliminate Evil” initiative is colloquially called. Announced in January 2018, the campaign primarily aims to root out criminal gangs that are powerful in local governance, and is massive in geography and scope—from shutting down gambling dens in Urumqi to busting illegal mines in Shanxi province.

The internet is teeming with reward notices from local police in every corner of the country, while state media has published photos of captured gangsters wearing black hoods, marched to the paddock by a column of police officers. Sensationalistic headlines claim that law enforcement organizations around the country have already busted nearly 6,000 gangs, detained 79,000 people, seized 62 billion RMB in assets, and confiscated 851 illegal guns.

Even Beijings powerful regulatory bodies are jumping on the bandwagon: Last August, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission said that it would crack down on illegal loan providers as a part of the saohei campaign.

On the other hand, overzealous local propaganda departments have demonstrated their support for the initiative by cracking down in questionable ways—from a situationally inappropriate banner proclaiming “Nip dark and evil forces in the bud” above the entrance of a Guiyang kindergarten, to a densely poetic billboard in Hunans Jiangdong village which impressed literate netizens, but seemed to have little to do with actually fighting crime.

These wasteful and seemingly random initiatives have led to concerns that local governments may be enthusiastic about the saohei campaign to the point of counterproductivity, with scholars noting that there are no legal definitions for “black” or “evil.” Nevertheless, there are quotas to meet: In 2018, Shandong province announced that each grassroots procuratorate must handle at least one “mafia” case each year.

Onlookers are commenting that this is just an escalation of Chinas efforts since 2012 to “catch flies and tigers,” an euphemism for rooting out corruption among both high and low-level officials. A Xinhua report notes that saohei should not only target organized criminals, such as “village tyrants,” but also the government officials who offer them protection. No crime is too big—or too small.