China's jailed ex-security czar leaked state secrets to his mystical qigong master, court says

Zhou Yongkang is facing life in prison on corruption charges tied to his qigong master
(Image credit: Feng Li/Getty Images)

A court in China convicted former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang of massive corruption, but also for passing on classified state secrets to his qigong master, Cao Yongzheng, according to court documents released last week. Cao rose to fame in the late 1980s, when he "gained a reputation as a semi-immortal for his supernatural powers," The Associated Press reports, including soothsaying and curing infertility.

The reliance of Zhou, until recently a member of the powerful Standing Committee of the Communist Party's Politburo, on spiritual figures like Cao isn't that uncommon, AP says, despite the party's tradition of staunch atheism. Along with qigong — a practice of meditation, breathing, and movement, related to tai chi — officials turn to Buddhist and Taoist monks, feng-shui masters, and other spiritual directors. Cao, who became one of China's wealthiest men under Zhou's protection, has fled the country.

Zhou was caught up in President Xi Jinping's two-year-old corruption crackdown, and some conservatives see a connection. "Corruption is only a matter of course when officials abandon Marxism and Leninism for ghosts and spirits," conservative pundit Sima Nan said on his microblog account. "Now the party has distanced itself from atheism for so long as to allow (qigong masters) to have a good life."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

But Xi would have a hard time stamping out China's spiritual turn. "The Cultural Revolution has rooted out China's traditional value system, and the introduction of Western values was disrupted to some extent in 1989," after the Tiananmen Square killings, Chinese independent commentator Shi Shusi tells AP. "But human souls need to have a home, so the Chinese have found the home for their souls in those qigong masters."

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.