He remembers him as a simple young man, down-to-earth with no airs about him.
It comes as a shock, therefore, when his old schoolmate, who has risen from the ranks to occupy one of the highest positions in the military, is now being portrayed in state media as a rapacious monster with no compunction to use power and influence to enrich himself.
What has happened to him?
That’s the question that is nagging Teng Xuyan, a former schoolmate of Xu Caihou, who was deputy chairman of China’s Central Military Commission before he was expelled from the Communist Party on Monday. Xu is the latest “tiger” caught in President Xi Jinping’s campaign to fight graft and corruption in the government.
“Xu was shy and humble when we first met in 1963 on a train to the Military Engineering Institute of the People’s Liberation Army,” Teng recalled. “I can hardly remember he ever had any outstanding talent during our five years in the university.”
But Xu, persevering in his studies and dedicated to his duties, was promoted to a higher-grade military official and moved to Beijing in the 1990s. Still, he kept a simple life and had a strong sense of self-discipline, Teng said.
“Another schoolmate of ours, named Liu Suming, who at the time had moved to Hong Kong, once visited Xu in Beijing during the summer. Liu was surprised when he found Xu only had electric fans at home. So Liu suggested giving him an air-conditioner. Xu refused. He said, ‘I don’t dare to have an air-conditioner while my bosses don’t have one.’”
But that was decades ago, a previous existence.
“How did you end up like this?” Teng said, addressing his old schoolmate through an open letter.
“Why do you need to have so much money and so many houses? Can’t you understand that having three meals a day and a single bed is enough for a happy life?”
Teng believes Xu has no one to blame for his downfall but himself. But he also thinks Xu’s superiors as well as the Party’s disciplinary watchdog are also responsible.
“Didn’t anyone know about what was going on? Didn’t anyone warn him about his wrongdoings?” Teng asked.
After much reflection, Teng can only blame the system that allowed a simple young man to become an unscrupulous criminal.
“A good system can turn a bad person into a good citizen, but a bad system will make a good person evil,” he said.
If there were strict regulatory mechanisms and a truly democratic system of monitoring cadres, Xu’s case would never have happened.
Teng believes only a deeper reform of the political system will be able to weed out corruption at its root.
The People’s Daily said Xu is the most senior official that has been purged since the 18th congress of the Communist Party was held in 2012.
He and his family have been accused of receiving more than 35 million yuan (US$5.6 million) from the army’s former deputy logistics chief, Gu Junshan. Gu was charged with bribery and embezzlement in March.
Said Teng: “Xu Caihou may be a mid-sized tiger, but I believe there are bigger ones. Let’s wait and see whether they will be caught.”
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