China charged former security chief Zhou Yongkang on Friday with taking bribes, abusing his power and disclosing state secrets, paving the way for one of the most significant political trials in the country in decades and underlining President Xi Jinping's dramatic consolidation of power.

Zhou, 73, presided over the nation's extremely powerful state security apparatus, including police and intelligence agencies, until his retirement in 2012, enforcing Communist Party control through a massive network of surveillance and repression. He was hated by many, and feared by almost everyone.

He was a key member of the party's apex body, the Politburo Standing Committee. His downfall breaks an unwritten rule that made members of the Standing Committee immune from prosecution even after retirement. - Washington Post