The combination of the fact-driven and the oblique in the Chinese news media’s reporting of this sad news are striking: key facts are reported (someone died, how/where he died, his name/position). Only at the end however, is reference made to the likelihood he himself was responsible for his death (i.e., he didn’t fall – he jumped while committing suicide) and the impetus for this sad event may have been that he was under investigation for corruption.
Cai’s work involved a high level of responsibility and potential influence. Disciplinary inspection committees are powerful parts of the Communist Party apparatus responsible for developing the cases used to decide the fate of Party members accused of wrongdoing that usually includes work in their ‘day job’ as government officials.
In corruption cases against government officials, the typical pattern is that the official is also a Party member and it is the Party apparatus (through the discipline inspection committees) that first investigates and recommends punishment for violation of Party rules before the member’s culpability as a government official is addressed. As an example of this process, Railway Minister Liu Zhijun is at the Party-discipline phase in a corruption case apparently implicating how China’s vast railway expansion budget is being used. Recent news stories emphasize his removal from his position, but a closer reading of the stories reveals that as of today (at least) he retains his role as Minister of Railways and it is — only — from his position as Party Secretary of the Ministry that he has been removed. As the Party Secretary role is the one that confirms his importance/legitimacy, thereby entitling him to the lofty position as Minister responsible for deployment of 700 billion RMB in fixed asset investment, ‘only’ being removed as Party secretary is no small matter.
For a member of a disciplinary committee to himself be implicated in a corruption scandal is an extremely serious thing. Cai’s decision to commit suicide is tragic, but not unique. Various high-profile suicides of officials in Asia drawn into corruption scandals have made international news, including Roh Moo-hyun, former Prime Minister of South Korea and General Reyes, former chief of the Philippine army, but there are plenty more in China that don’t receive such wide coverage.