I'm a believer: former Chinese security chief Zhou Yongkang has been linked to a fortune teller known as "the sage of Xinjiang". Photo: EyePress News
Beijing: When the home of disgraced People’s Liberation Army general Gu Junshan was raided last year, it took 20 policemen two nights and four trucks to remove the alleged proceeds of corruption from his Henan mansion.
The haul included gold, crates of expensive liquor, a boat and a statue of Chairman Mao.
Not found until later, however, was a small block of fine mahogany that he hid in his trouser pocket, according to an account relayed by PLA Colonel Gong Fangbin.
"Soft-boned": People's Liberation Army general Gu Junshan finds himself at the centre of a Communist Party probe into official corruption. Photo: Ross Duncan
Pronounced tao mu in Mandarin, the word for mahogany can also mean ''escape''. On advice from his fortune teller, General Gu believed the wood would help him shake the bad luck of what had been a calamitous year and somehow evade an inevitable date with the court martial.
The discovery infuriated Colonel Gong, who called General Gu’s superstitious beliefs a “mental illness” that rendered him “soft-boned” and unable to “withstand a variety of decadent ideas”.
Last week, the party’s corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, referred another fallen senior official - former deputy party secretary for Sichuan province Li Chuncheng - to be prosecuted for corruption after a 17-month investigation.
Mixed in with the usual party language of accepting huge bribes, abusing power and insinuations of “improper relations” with multiple women, was a reference to Mr Li’s indulgence in “feudalistic superstitious activities” which caused “massive losses to state finances”.
Mr Li, according to a report from prominent financial magazine Caixin, had spent tens of millions of yuan consulting a fengshui master when moving his family’s ancestral tomb.
Having declared war on party corruption, and home-grown terrorism in far-western Xinjiang, is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s next target the age-old Chinese philosophy of balancing the invisible forces of qi?
As with most conundrums in elite Chinese politics, the answer could lie with Zhou Yongkang. The country's former domestic security chief has been under a cloud for months, with dozens of associates detained or hauled in for questioning as part of Mr Xi’s anti-corruption purge.
With a reputation for ruthlessness, Mr Zhou, a long-time patron of Mr Li, is also known to have a superstitious streak, and spent big consulting experts to optimise the feng shui for his family’s ancestral plot in Wuxi, in southern Jiangsu province.
A series of reports from Southern Weekly and Caixin have identified a link between the “Xinjiang sage” Cao Yongzheng and both Mr Zhou and Mr Li. Favoured by various senior party officials for his uncanny ability to predict the future, Mr Cao is among those reportedly detained in a sweeping corruption investigation into China’s state-owned oil industry.
Feng shui is popular among the Chinese diaspora worldwide, partly driving the popularity of suburbs like Box Hill and Doncaster in Melbourne and Chatswood in Sydney among local Chinese communities.
A 2007 report found more than half of county-level Communist Party officials in China believed in fortune telling, face reading, astrology and dream interpreting.
But Lin Zhe, an anti-corruption expert at the Central Party School, which trains party cadres, says the resurgence of feng shui and other superstitions within the party was intrinsically linked to the growth in corruption.
“In the late 1970s and early 1980s this was less of a trend among cadres. But as corruption grew, superstition did as well,” Professor Lin told Fairfax Media. “Corrupt officials live an extremely uneasy life, and try to avoid misfortune by begging for mercy from gods and Buddha.
“Those who are clean and open-hearted won’t be like this; only those whose minds are dark and dirty, and have lost control of their futures, would resort to this.”