The discipline arm of the ruling Chinese Communist Party has aired a television propaganda film lauding President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign, which he has vowed will target both high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies."
A dramatization of the work of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), "Fighting Iron With Iron" will air in three parts on state broadcaster CCTV through Thursday at peak viewing time in the evening.
The film airs amid growing criticism of the CCDI's use of torture and extrajudicial detention of suspects and witnesses to cases under investigation.
Based on interviews with more than 30 CCDI teams across China, the film has been hailed by state media as "though-provoking, alarming and a strong warning."
Veteran journalist Xu Xiang said the movie is being seen as the political swan-song of CCDI chairman Wang Qishan, whose term in office is due to expire at the 19th Party Congress later this year.
"Will the next congress endorse him to remain in his job, or will [they decide] that he has reached retirement age?" Xu said. "Now is a very good time for him to be publicizing his so-called achievements to the world, while he is still in office."
"This is a showcase, a form of personal statement, from him," he said.
Independent political commentator Liu Rui said the film is part of a slew of propaganda offerings that will increase in the run-up to the 19th Party Congress.
"The main point of this attempt to clean up the party is to bolster its grip on power," Liu said. "There will be all kinds of changes in leadership at every level, and if they don't continue with the anti-corruption campaign during this time, they will find it extremely difficult to do so after the congress meets."
He said the fact that the CCDI has made the movie is interesting, however.
"Let me put it this way," Liu said. "Nobody is monitoring the monitors, and people will be asking who will be monitoring the central government in its supervision of governments and officials at local level."
‘Selling a lie’
Beijing-based rights activist Hu Jia said there is a limit to what such a production can achieve.
"If they are aiming to create a harmonious and stable political environment for the 19th Party Congress, of course it's important to get public opinion on their side," Hu said.
"It's selling them a lie, and some people will build false hopes that are based on that lie, but more and more people are less willing to be brainwashed by party propaganda nowadays, in my view," he said.
"All of this is just scratching the surface, if the system doesn't change," he said.
The movie isn't the CCDI's first foray into film-making.
In October, the graft-busting agency aired an eight-part television series titled "Forever On The Way," giving its account of investigations into eight "tigers" netted by the campaign, including former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, former public security minister Zhou Yongkang and former top generals Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong.
Around the same time, President Xi Jinping was denouncing Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai, Guo Boxiong, Xu Caihou, and Ling Jihua for "engaging in political conspiracy activities," according to a copy of a speech made by Xi at a high-level political meeting last October and published by state-run news agency Xinhua this week.
He told the meeting, which later described him as a "core leader," that the disgraced former leaders were also financially greedy and led corrupt lifestyles.
Xi's ideological campaign intensified earlier this year with his tour of the country's leading state media outlets, and is intended to send out a strong message that "careerists and conspirators" and "cabals and cliques" won't be tolerated in party ranks.
"There are careerists and conspirators existing in our party and undermining the party's governance," Xi said last January without naming any names.
Attempts to neutralize rivals
Political analysts said Xi's accusations were proof that the anti-corruption campaign has far more to do with the president's attempts to neutralize his political rivals than with genuinely cleaning up the party, however.
Critics say the anti-corruption campaign is highly selective, while rights lawyers have slammed the party's internal investigation system for resorting to torture and other abuses to elicit forced confessions.
Guangzhou-based writer Ye Du said the movie is being aired now, because it is crucial for Xi's administration to continue promoting the official narrative on the anti-corruption campaign.
"I am hearing that they plan to continue with the anti-corruption campaign beyond the 19th Party Congress, and so this has to be established and supported as the key narrative," Ye said.
"They are stepping up their propaganda about the campaigns with exhibitions and film and television, in the hope of improving the system and making it more effective," he said.
"But it is precisely because this is an undemocratic system that this problem remains unsolved, even after several years of the anti-corruption campaign," Ye said.
He said the only way the government has any control over what its officials do is to keep them in a state of constant fear.
Last month, a new report from the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the shuanggui system run by the CCDI has no basis in Chinese law, but is the first to detain and question officials for suspected corruption, often holding them for long periods in secret and placing their family members under house arrest.
Detainees under its "special measures" are often subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation, enforced stress positions, deprivation of food and water, and beatings, it said.
HRW called on the Chinese government to abolish the shuanggui system, which is an extrajudicial process that takes place before any criminal charges are laid, and which sets a detailed blueprint for all the judicial processes that follow.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lee Lai for the Cantonese Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie.