Former Anti-Graft Hero Gets Life in Jail for Corruption

November 18, 2005

The Intermediate People's Court in Nanping city, Fujian province, sentenced Huang Jin'gao on November 10 to life imprisonment and deprivation of political rights for accepting bribes and corruption, according to a Xinhua report (in Chinese) dated the same day. A former Communist Party official, Huang once was hailed in China's state-run media as a whistleblower who exposed massive government corruption. According to the Xinhua report, the court found that Huang had used his positions as a deputy district head, director of the Fuzhou municipal finance committee, and Communist Party secretary in Lianjiang county to obtain 3,549,300 million yuan (US $228,000) in bribes.

Huang gained notoriety both in China and abroad as a whistleblower in August 2004, when the People's Daily Web site published his letter, entitled "Why I Have Had to Wear a Bullet Proof Vest for Six Years," in which he accused colleagues of confiscating land from peasants and selling it at below-market prices to real estate developers in exchange for bribes. A few days after Huang posted his letter on August 11, the Central Propaganda Department ordered China's media to stop reporting the story and removed the letter from the Internet, according to a November 10, 2004, Washington Post article. On August 14, Party and local government officials in Fujian issued a "Preliminary Response Based on Initial Investigation," criticizing Huang's failure to voice his concerns through internal Party channels. They accused Huang of violating internal Party policy by expressing his criticisms to the media and called on Party officials to implement measures to "appropriately deal" with his case. The response further included a warning that "The direct result of [Huang's] behavior was that it would be used by hostile Western forces, hostile Taiwan forces, democratic movement elements and others, thus leading to social and political instability." The response failed to address Huang's substantive arguments, including his claim that he possessed evidence to support his accusations of corruption. There are no reports that Fujian authorities have begun investigations into any corruption claims other than those against Huang and his affiliates.

According to Fujian officials, Huang disagreed with municipal Party leaders about how to resolve a local land dispute between the county government and a development company. On May 13, 2004, the same day that Huang planned to publish his letter, Party officials met with him to insist that he cease any attempts to publish it and pursue his complaint instead through the appropriate Party channels. They met with him again on July 11 and in early August to reiterate the demands. After the letter appeared on the Web site on August 11, 2004, the municipal Party committee held a series of internal conferences with Party leaders of the various ministries, commissions, and counties in Fujian, to call for "further unity of ideology" and more concerted efforts to "overcome the risks [and] speed up development." According to a November 11 article in the South China Morning Post (subscription required), in December 2004 unidentified people took Huang from the Lianjiang Royal Hotel, where he was scheduled to attend a meeting. A December 18, 2004 article on the Hong Kong Ta Kung Pao Web site subsequently revealed that Party officials had placed Huang and his wife in administrative detention to investigate charges of corruption against them. The SCMP reports that on June 30, Huang was dismissed from the Fuzhou People's Congress and as a representative of the Lianjiang County People's Congress, on suspicion of taking bribes.

As the Commission noted in the Introduction to its 2004 Annual Report, corruption has led to a loss of confidence on the part of many Chinese citizens in the honesty of government and Party officials. Nonetheless, an August 15 article on the China Elections and Governance Web site notes the mixed reactions among Chinese citizens following Huang's case. (The Web site is run by the non-profit, U.S.-based Carter Center as part of the China Elections Project, which received approval from the Ministry of Civil Affairs.) Some observers have questioned whether the case against Huang was politically motivated, and whether Chinese authorities detained and convicted him both to discredit him and to discourage others from exposing corruption publicly. In an August 12 article published by the China Economic Times, one commentator argued that the validity of the prosecution and credibility of the government would be at stake if trial proceedings were not made public. A November 11 Radio Free Asia article observed that the court ultimately restricted media access to Huang's trial and that coverage has been limited to reprints of the official Xinhua report.