Corruption scandals have the descendants of revolutionary heroes on the defensive

“The battle against corruption,” warned General Liu Yuan, “has become a life and death struggle.” “I would rather die,” he said, “than surrender in this battle.”

Only days after General Liu delivered his speech to 600 officers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) on Chinese New Year's Day in January, the influential Political Commissar of the PLA's General Logistics Department made sure his audience knew he meant every word.

A corruption crackdown led by General Liu snared a senior official of the notoriously corrupt PLA Logistics Department, Lieutenant General Gu Junshan, who would become the highest-ranked PLA officer to be dismissed over corruption allegations in recent years.

In his speech, General Liu said he was “not afraid of losing my position in this fight”. “No matter how high your position is and how strong your background is,” he said, “I won't give up easily.”

General Liu's high-profile anti-corruption campaign has drawn wide attention ahead of this year's once-in-a-decade leadership transition, which will see sweeping changes across the highest levels of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the government and the military.

One reason for the attention is that corruption has been flagged in recent speeches by top leaders, from President Hu Jintao to his anointed successor, Vice-President Xi Jinping, as the biggest challenge the party faces.

Another is General Liu's own background. His father, Liu Shaoqi, served as China's head of state from 1959 until 1968, when he was purged during the decade-long Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Liu died in a prison cell after suffering brutal treatment and humiliation at the hands of Mao Zedong's Red Guards.

As the CPC prepares to usher in a new generation of leaders, the increasingly prominent role played by the children of former leaders — the Second Red Generation, or hongerdai as they are known in China — has come into the spotlight.

Most prominent among them is Mr. Xi himself, who will succeed Hu Jintao as the party's General Secretary at the 18th Party Congress which will be held later this year. Another is the former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai — a childhood friend and long-term associate of General Liu — who was expected to play an influential role among the next generation of leadership before his sudden fall from power earlier this year.

The corruption allegations targeting Mr. Bo that have been leaked into the state media have painted a negative picture of the second Red generation, prompting a response from some of its members who are keen to clear their names and prevent their Red legacy from being tarnished by others in their generation. “Social problems are very prominent. Some corrupt officials have damaged the Party's reputation. We truly worry a little that the power gained by our elder generations through hardship will collapse and be taken away in a day,” Chen Renkang, the son of Chen Shiju who was, like Mr. Bo's father Bo Yibo, a prominent founding revolutionary figure, was quoted as saying by the Nanfengchuang magazine last week.

“If the country is not well-managed and well-treated, this is entirely possible. This has been shown throughout history,” he said, in remarks that were reproduced by the Party-run Global Times newspaper in a rare story in its English-language edition on Friday on the hongerdai — usually a taboo topic for state media.

“We, of the second generation, have a common personality, a shared sense of responsibility. We all want to make some contributions,” added Lu Tongyu, the son of another prominent general, Lu Zhengcao.

The younger Mr. Lu, last month, brought together 800 members of the hongerdai to discuss the country's problems. Many similar events have also been held in Beijing, with other children of leaders voicing concerns over corruption — and particularly, the excesses of some fellow hongerdai. “The original Party members fought for the people, not for themselves,” Ji Pomin, son of the former Vice-Premier, Ji Dengkui, told the Global Times. “The Party must now serve the people. Power doesn't belong to one single family and cannot be kept from generation to generation.”

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