Set up in 1974, Hong Kong’s independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) was tasked with stamping out graft in the local police force. The work was significant in transforming the bribery-ridden colony into an international financial hub. On the front line of the battle was the ICAC’s publicity department. It was responsible for ICAC Investigators, a TV series which dramatised real-life cases and was first broadcast in 1975 (the show’s first producer Rafael Hui climbed the ranks to become the territory’s second most senior civil servant in 2005 – ironically, he was jailed for corruption in 2014).
The impact of ICAC Investigators may not have gone unnoticed in mainland China. The People’s Daily has paid tribute to the show’s educational role, especially in instilling a “zero tolerance” attitude towards corruption. Thus the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) has set out to produce its own hard-hitting television series.
Always on the Road has been co-produced by the graft-busting agency and state broadcaster CCTV. An eight-part documentary, it was shown last week and ended its nightly run on Monday: when the sixth plenary session of the Party’s ruling Central Committee (the Sixth Plenum) was due to start.
The first episode, titled “Feelings of the People”, showed images of Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, the former vice-chairmen of the Chinese army’s top military commission. Both were among the bigger catches of the CCDI’s anti-corruption campaign (Xu died of cancer while in custody last year, while Guo was jailed for life in July). Perhaps the only bigger scalps were Bo Xilai (former Chongqing Party boss) and Zhou Yongkang (former national security tsar).
Viewers are offered a ringside seat into CCDI investigations and the types of corruption uncovered. In the third episode, officials from Qingdao are shown on an extravagant trip to the US and Brazil in 2014. The nine-day visit includes tickets to a football World Cup semi-final – paid for by a Chinese property firm. The documentary does not mention the company specifically, although it shows documents bearing Vanke’s name. (The Shenzhen-based homebuilder responded in a statement that it had instructed its subsidiary to cooperate with investigators.)
There’s also a series of confessions from officials anxious to atone for their behaviour. “Compared with past education materials on anti-corruption, this documentary is more impressive. Introspection from these corrupt officials could serve as a warning as well as a reminder to all officials and Party members to abide by the Party discipline,” Fu Siming, a professor from the Party school, told the Global Times.
Party members and government officials have been told to watch the show. But Always on the Road seems to have struck a chord with the public too and the CCDI’s TV offering also syncs perfectly with the Sixth Plenum’s theme: governing the Party in a strict manner. “The graft-busting campaign is ‘always on the road’ and will never turn back,” the Global Times proclaims.
This is the CDDI’s first foray into television but it doesn’t look like being the last. As we reported in WiC323, the agency’s boss Wang Qishan is huge fan of House of Cards, and a similar style of drama is being produced at the CDDI’s behest. Its working title is In the Name of the People and its 42-episode run will start before the end of the year, with an all-star cast and a budget of Rmb120 million ($17.68 million).
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