[Update: On August 30, 2012, official media reported Zhang Guangning's appearance at official functions, likely to dispel rumors of his political demise.]
This S-election year may be a dangerous one for local party bosses in China, when the country’s ruling Communist Party does its once-in-a-decade house cleaning.
After rumors of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai’s downfall turned out to be true, the social media rumor sharks are circling Zhang Guangning (张广宁), the former party boss of Guangzhou, one of the largest and most important cities in China. Rumor has it that Zhang tried to commit suicide by jumping off a building after being investigated for corrupt dealings during the 2010 Asian Games, which Guangzhou hosted. Some netizens say Zhang tried to commit suicide along with his secretary and hurt his legs, while others insist that only Zhang’s secretary tried to jump, but her attempt led to an investigation into Zhang’s dealings.
In December 2011, Zhang ceased to be the Guangzhou party secretary due to “age and term change factors” but awaited “other assignments,” according to an official press release. Zhang has received no assignment in 2012, however, leading to speculations about his fate.
However, it is the political fortunes of Wang Yang, the provincial party boss of Guangdong and widely viewed as a champion of liberal policies in China, that have stirred the most discussion on social media. Many seem to believe that Wang started the investigation into Zhang’s affairs, and it may be part of Wang’s attempt to earn political capital ahead of the 18th Party Congress to be held in the fall. If his star is on the rise, Wang may get a seat on the Standing Committee and head the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the organization responsible for investigating corruption within the Party.
Regardless whether the rumors are true, some Guangzhou locals seem to believe Zhang had it coming. Writing on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, one commented, “This is payback. The Asian Games spent four years worth of Guangzhou’s budget.” Another agreed, “I heard this rumor about a month ago when I was having my dim sum, but the news was suppressed. Zhang’s white elephant projects destroyed so much of Guangzhou’s culture! Those were Guangzhou’s roots!”
Another just wants to see a good show: “Guangdong is going to have an earthquake! Let’s get a chair and watch what happens.”