Gen. Xu Caihou, 71, was expelled from the Communist Party by the 25-member Politburo and faces charges of accepting bribes for military promotions. He was vice chairman of the party's military directorate, the Central Military Commission, prior to his 2012 retirement.
The state-run news agency Xinhua, quoting a report given to party leaders, said Xu accepted bribes of "wealth and property from others, gravely violating party discipline and bringing suspicion of the crime of accepting bribes. The circumstances were grave and the effects were malignant."
Xu is the most senior official to be accused of bribery charges since President Xi Jinping announced efforts in 2012 to reform the party's elite. Many Chinese believe corruption and profiteering are rampant in upper levels of government and the military.
The Politburo also expelled Li Dongsheng, former public security minister, and two former state oil executives, Jiang Jiemin and Wang Yongchun, on corruption charges.
Xu is believed to be in poor health, and was turned over to authorities for a criminal investigation.