Zhou Yongkang, right, then Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of security, listens to Wang Lequan, deputy chairman of the party's Political and Legislative Affairs Committee, during a plenary session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in March 2012. / Ng Han Guan, AP
BEIJING - China announced Tuesday that feared former security chief Zhou Yongkang is being investigated for "serious violations" of Communist Party discipline.
The party's anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, revealed the investigation on its website Tuesday evening. It offered no details on a probe that makes Zhou the most senior party member to be investigated since the infamous Gang of Four - which included Chairman Mao's widow - in the late 1970s.
The announcement marks a significant stage in the anti-corruption drive of party chief Xi Jinping, who has vowed to spare neither "tigers" nor "flies" (high and low-level officials) in his efforts to clean up China's ruling party.
Zhou, 71, counts as the biggest tiger yet, and the most senior Chinese politician to be caught in a corruption scandal since Mao seized power in 1949.
Reflecting the extreme sensitivity of the case, China's media have for many months tip-toed around the Zhou story, despite rising speculation as the party detained and investigated dozens of Zhou's associates and family members.
Zhou retired in 2012 from the party's then nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, the very apex of power in China. He commanded the powerful position of domestic security tsar, and oversaw a dramatic expansion in the security budget and operations as authorities targeted any individual or group considered even a remote threat to the party's monopoly on power.
Zhou and his family are widely suspected of having exploited his position to build up huge fortunes. But his potential takedown remains highly unusual as it appears to break an unwritten rule that Politburo Standing Committee members are off-limits to investigators, even when retired.
That rule was designed to preserve the image of party unity to China's public even though China's citizens have long grown skeptical that the party can supervise itself, and stop corruption.
"The party still behaves like the old dynasties, choosing its own leaders," said Zhang Kexin, 53, a grocery store owner in Beijing. "The only effective way to reduce corruption is a multiparty system," but there are no moves in that direction, he said.
Han Yuqi, who teaches Chinese at an east Beijing elementary school, said Zhou's case reflects top-level political in-fighting, like that of jailed politician Bo Xilai, whom Zhou was rumored to have supported. Han said the case "represents progress, as ordinary Chinese can now get more information about such news."
But "we still don't know the truth, and we can't change anything without real political reform," he said.
Contributing: Sunny Yang
Read the original story: China launches probe into powerful ex-security chief