context: The scale and depth of organised crime has been a regular topic in Party media since late summer, and in recent weeks, coverage has referenced governance shortcomings as a contributing factor. Instead of following the usual path of launching a nationwide campaign against crime, some in Beijing seem to be signalling that reforming local governance is not out of the question.

A People’s Daily commentary says that the crackdown on local mafia is not only about punishing crimes and maintaining law and order, but also a test of eliminating corruption and strengthening grassroots governance.

It cites examples of illegal casinos, the profits from which local mafia used to bribe their way into the village Party secretary and branch head positions; engagement in vanity projects and use of drugs to control members of village committees.

Due to China’s size and large population, the commentary continues, resource shortcomings makes ridding the grassroots of such organisations difficult; local mafia enjoy ‘protective umbrellas’ and cling to local political and economic resources. Many places have taken investigations beyond the criminals themselves to examine protective umbrellas that may lie behind them and whether supervisory Party-state entities or departments fulfilled their responsibilities. The commentary says by end of July, public security organs across the country had

  • destroyed 514 mafia organisations and 2,993 criminal groups
  • cracked more than 34,000 criminal cases

But once mafia groups (some of which are intertwined with the forces of local clans) are eliminated, a grassroots ‘governance vacuum’ then emerges. In response, some localities have sent university students or officials to serve in the grassroots or explored joint Party committees for developed and less developed villages.

The commentary stresses following clear legal norms; administrative and judicial resources should cooperate, multiple departments must integrate their resources and ultimately a modern governance system is the only solution.