China paper details "repentance letters" of corrupt officials

BEIJING (Reuters) - An official Chinese newspaper provided unusual details on Wednesday of the "repentance letters" officials sometimes write after being accused of corruption, shining a light on the murky process the government employs to fight a deep-seated problem. Chinese President Xi Jinping has vowed to go after powerful "tigers" and lowly "flies" in his battle against graft, which has been accompanied by a massive propaganda push even as the exact methods investigators use are hidden behind a wall of secrecy. But writing in the military's People's Liberation Army Daily, Zhang Xuejie, identified as a political commissar for the army, said he had seen the repentance letters of 23 officials accused of corruption, including two very senior ones. "Recently I have seen the 'repentance letters' of 23 corrupt officials, and it really sent a shiver through me," Zhang wrote, describing letters which officials would write confessing their crimes hoping to get leniency. "Their life paths were generally the same: they all had miserable childhoods, strove to overcome in their teens and rose up in middle age, before succumbing to tragedy in their later years," he added. One of the letters Zhang said he had seen was written by Su Rong, who had been one of the 23 vice-chairmen of a largely ceremonial but high-profile advisory body to parliament until authorities began an investigation last year. Born in rural poverty, then trained as an accountant, he fell in with the wrong crowd, Zhang said, citing the contents of the letter. "(My) self-cultivation was poor, thinking in one way and behaving in another; (my) world view, outlook on life and values were twisted," the letter said. Bai Enpei, formerly Communist Party boss of the southwestern province of Yunnan, wrote that his downfall was a gradual process. "It started from giving and receiving gifts to exchanging money for power and giving and receiving enormous bribes," Zhang paraphrased Bai's letter as saying. Corruption in the military is a highly sensitive topic, and the People's Liberation Army Daily has taken an especially strong line since one of its former top officers, Xu Caihou, was accused of corruption last year. He died this week of cancer. Retired and serving officers have warned that the problem is so serious it could affect the ability to wage war. Zhang cited a warning attributed to Mao Zedong, the founder of modern China, to his army commanders as they took control of Beijing in 1949: "You guys need to follow the rules and listen to orders, otherwise I'll draw the knives on you." (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)