Sun Zhengcai (孙政才; born September 1963) is a Chinese politician and senior regional official. From 2012 to 2017, Sun served as the Communist Party Secretary of Chongqing, an interior municipality. He has also been a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China since 2012. Prior to that, he served as the Party Secretary of Jilin province, and Minister of Agriculture of China.
Shortly after losing his post in Chongqing, Sun was put under investigation by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Sun is the youngest member of the 18th Politburo of the Communist Party of China, and the fourth sitting Politburo member to be subject to investigation since 1990. Prior to his fall from grace, Sun was once considered to be a leading candidate for a top leadership position in the “6th Generation of Chinese leadership”.
Sun was born to an ordinary family of farmers in a village located near the city of Rongcheng, Shandong province in September 1963. In 1980, Sun was admitted to the Laiyang Agricultural College (now Qingdao Agricultural University). After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, he pursued post-graduate work at the Beijing Agriculture and Forestry Institute and the China Agricultural University, where he obtained master’s degrees in agronomy. After completing his academic work, he remained at the institute to conduct further research and eventually obtained positions as an administrator, rising to become executive vice president of the institute, in charge of its day-to-day work.
Sun joined the Communist Party of China in July 1988. In 1997, he was named governor and Deputy Communist Party Secretary of Shunyi County in rural Beijing. Shunyi was then converted from a county to an urban district; Sun continued to serve as district governor. In February 2002, he became the Party Secretary of the Shunyi District outside of Beijing, and also earned a seat on the municipal Party Standing Committee. After serving concurrently as secretary general of the Beijing party organization from 2002 to 2006, in December 2006, he was appointed as Minister of Agriculture as nominated by Premier Wen Jiabao. At age 43, Sun was one of the youngest State Council ministers at the time.
In November 2009, Sun was named party secretary of Jilin province, in northeast China. In November 2012, after the 18th CPC National Congress, he was appointed a member of the Politburo and replaced Zhang Dejiang as party chief of Chongqing. The post in Chongqing had emerged as one of the most important regional offices in China, and Sun’s assuming the reins in the interior municipality signaled that he was likely destined for even higher office. It also demonstrated the trust that the central leadership placed in Sun, as Chongqing had only monthly earlier weathered a political storm with the attempted defection of police chief Wang Lijun and the ouster of party chief Bo Xilai. Since the 1990s, regional leadership tenures were seen as important stepping stones to eventual national leadership.
It is not clear if Sun had any strong backing from former political heavyweights prior to his ascendancy to the Politburo; more likely, he was a consensus candidate whose loyalties crossed factional lines. It has been suggested that Jia Qinglin or Wen Jiabao may have served as Sun’s advocate for promotion; the former because Sun worked for Beijing for much of his early political career, where Jia Qinglin was party secretary, and the latter because Wen and Sun both share a modest upbringing and common concerns for China’s rural population.
In February 2017, inspection teams under the auspices of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection released a report announcing that Chongqing had not done enough to excise its political scene from the influence of Bo Xilai and Wang Lijun. It was the first blot on Sun in an otherwise steady term in Chongqing. In June 2017, Chongqing police chief He Ting was removed from office. He Ting and Sun were from the same area of Shandong province.
On July 15, 2017, party authorities announced that Sun was to be replaced in his post as party secretary of Chongqing by Chen Min’er, who was propaganda chief in Zhejiang when Xi Jinping was provincial party secretary there. The meeting to announce the event had been called abruptly, and Sun himself was not present at the handover ceremony; there was no mention of his record in Chongqing, either, as was customary for major transition meetings. Curiously, footage of Sun also appeared to be deliberately cut from Xinwen Lianbo coverage of the National Finance Work Conference – a meeting attended by all Politburo members. These signs were taken as a political death knell for Sun.
On July 24, 2017, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection announced that Sun was undergoing investigation for violating party discipline. The announcement marked the first time that a sitting Politburo member was investigated by the CCDI since Xi Jinping assumed power as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China at the 18th Party Congress. Before Sun, the last incumbent Politburo member subject to investigation was Bo Xilai (also then serving as Chongqing party secretary) in April 2012. Sun was the fourth sitting Politburo member investigated after 1990 – following Chen Xitong, Chen Liangyu, and Bo Xilai; all of them were party chiefs of direct-controlled municipalities.
Prior to his downfall, political observers generally saw Sun as being groomed for a higher leadership position due to his relatively youth and the diversity of his experiences; he had even been characterized as a potential successor to Xi Jinping. The announcement of the investigation into Sun in July 2017 essentially put an end to his political career. Prior to the announcement of the investigation, Sun (along with Hu Chunhua) were seen by political observers as having almost certainly secured further advancement at the upcoming 19th Party Congress. Sun’s departure seems to have upset the carefully calibrated conventions from previous administrations and made the congress more open-ended than would have otherwise been.