Xu Caihou (徐才厚; June 1943 – March 15, 2015) was a general in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China and Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), the country’s top military council. As Vice-Chairman of the CMC, he was one of the top ranking officers of the People’s Liberation Army. He also held a seat on the 25-member Politburo of the Communist Party of China between 2007 and 2012.
Born to a working-class family in Liaoning province, Xu spent much of his earlier career in northeastern China. He moved to Beijing in 1990 to become political commissar of the 16th Group Army, later serving as editor of the PLA’s flagship newspaper, the PLA Daily. In 1996 Xu became political commissar of the Jinan Military Region. He became Vice-Chairman of the CMC in September 2004. He retired from office in March 2013.
Xu was detained and put under investigation on suspicion of bribery in March 2014, in one of the highest profile corruption investigations in PLA history, and was expelled from the Communist Party in June 2014.
Xu’s downfall was unexpected because corruption investigations involving mid-tier military officers are rarely publicly announced in the People’s Republic of China as to not compromise national security. Such an announcement involving a high-ranking general was entirely unprecedented. Xu became the highest-ranked officer in the history of the People’s Liberation Army to be investigated in corruption. During the investigation into Xu, investigators found over one tonne of cash in his Beijing home, along with precious gems, ancient artifacts, and artwork. It was said that much of the cash was still stowed away neatly in boxes marked with the names of individual officers, and that it took 12 trucks to transport all the materials confiscated from his home.
According to numerous reports in Chinese and international media, the practice of exchanging “cash for ranks” was widespread during Xu’s term as Vice-Chairman; the practice was ostensibly common from the highest-ranking officers to the rank-and-file petty officers. According to sources in the army, Xu’s power during his CMC Vice-Chairmanship was largely unchecked, they cited an example where one officer attempted to bribe Xu with ten million yuan to secure a higher rank, another officer ‘outbid’ the first one with twenty million yuan (~$3.2 million), so Xu annulled the arrangement with the first officer. Other accusations suggested that during Xu’s term in office, an implicit set of prices were attached to each rank in the army as well as other ‘privileges’ such as party membership.
Xu died in March 15 ,2015 from bladder cancer and multiple organ failure at the 301 Military Hospital in Beijing at the age of 71, likely during the annual “two sessions” (Lianghui) meeting of China’s legislature and legislative advisory body. There is some speculation that his death was not announced until the conclusion of Lianghui on 15 March to avoid distracting from the proceedings of the nation’s pre-eminent annual political gathering. As a result of his death, military prosecutors announced that, “in accordance with legal procedures,” they will not continue to pursue charges against him, despite having already filed suit in military court, but will continue work in investigating his “ill-gotten gains”.