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A Chinese journalist just took down a senior government official, but hold the applause

No golden parachute for you, Liu Tienan. AP Photo / Eugene Hoshiko

Could China’s Xi Jinping be making good on his promise to take down “tigers and flies” (meaning peons and high-ranking government officials) to fight corruption? Today, state media Xinhua reported that Liu Tienan (pictured above), deputy chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, one of China’s most important ministries that oversees economic policy, was removed from his post. Xinhua’s only explanation was Liu’s “suspected involvement in serious disciplinary violations.”

Liu’s firing is important for two reasons. First, Liu is one of the highest-level officials of almost 70 cadres charged or investigated by party authorities since Xi announced his anti-corruption campaign in November of last year. The only other major “tigers” to have fallen are a senior district official in Chengdu, China, and a former railways minister. Bo Xilai, former party secretary of Chongqing, was expelled from the party before Xi came into office, but his case has continued under the current administration. Of course, at this point, the fledgling crackdown could be just window dressing.

More interestingly, a blog by a Chinese journalist may have prompted the investigation. In December, Luo Changping, deputy editor of Caijing Magazine, published photos on Sina Weibo of what he says are documents proving that Liu’s academic credentials are fake and that his family accepted kickbacks. Luo, who says the investigation is linked to his work, appears to be the first blogger to use his actual identity in accusing a high-ranking official. “To report is dangerous,” Luo wrote on his blog (registration required) today. “Using one’s real name, you must be prudent.” His three posts on Liu, published in December, can still be found herehere, and here (registration required).

Luo Changping posted this photo of a couple he says is Liu Tienan and his mistress visiting Japan. Sina Weibo / Luo Changping

Chinese authorities have allowed Luo’s posts to circulate online for the past five months, and other media have been reporting on the story and evading censorship. But the lax media controls could be another example of the Chinese government trying to prove that the party is cracking down on corruption, as was the case with stories on Bo Xilai after he was already expelled from the party and other low-level officials.

On the whole, though, censorship may have actually increased since Xi took office. “The controls are tighter than ever,” Li Cheng, an expert on Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, told the Associated Press. Censors have deleted the blogs of Chinese scholars (paywall) protesting the construction of a petrochemical plant, as well as that of Chinese author and censorship critic Murong Xuecun.

Police have also detained at least 10 activists for demanding that officials disclose their assets as a way to stamp out national corruption. On May 13, Luo told the the New York Times he hoped to see “more change at the institutional level to fight corruption, not just focusing on individual cases.”

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