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In 2018, China began a broad 3-year national action against ‘underworld forces’. The initiative is called Saohei (short for 扫黑除恶, pronounced Sow-Hay Choo-Uh) or ‘clearing out the underworld.’
The difference between the Saohei campaign and previous crackdowns or strike-hard campaigns against organized crime is one of both scope and focus. Earlier campaigns were more purely law-enforcement actions aimed to uncover and investigate organized crime groups. Saohei by contrast is inherently political. It is concerned with solidifying the Party’s lasting power through the lowest levels of government by eliminating sources of outside interference and influence, as well as officials that protect them.
The trademark of these underworld forces is that the: 1. Endanger government authority. 2. Oppress or abuse the people 3. Disrupt economic order and the people’s lives.
While local governments have put out their own lists of specific types of ‘underworld forces’ to be included [see local documents below], they can generally be broken into a few types:
- Corrupt village officials and ‘men behind the curtain’ who control and manipulate state power at the local levels or misappropriate village assets.
- Village or town ‘bosses’ that dominate a region, such as by exploiting familial, religious, or clan affiliations.
- Industry and market ‘bosses’ that seize control in areas such as agriculture, construction, transportation, shipping, mining, fishing, or tourism that organize illegal operations, have illegal monopolies, force transactions, or collect protection fees.
- Those organizing disruptions of major economic activities such as land acquisition, project bidding, etc.
- ‘Underground police forces’ (enforcers) and professional medical dispute profiteers that insert themselves in civil financial disputes.
- Those organizing illegal activities involving ‘sex, gambling, drugs, or guns’.
- Loan sharks, lenders and collection agencies using illegal methods.
- Foreign and cross-border criminal organizations developing in China.
The other targets of the action are “Protective Umbrellas”, or the officials and government employees who exploit their authority and positions to participate in, facilitate, or protect underworld forces.