A senior policeman in Lufeng, China allegedly bought 192 houses with fake identity papers, according to BBC. For 2012, China was ranked 80th out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. Graft, embezzlement, nepotism…When is China finally going to crack down on its corrupt officials, be they “tigers” or “flies”?
If you ask Chinese citizens what is their greatest gripe with government, they might just say official corruption. There is a folk saying that goes:
In China, bribe-taking has been so ubiquitous and severe that one party secretary in a poor county received repeated death threats for rejecting over 600,000 Renminbi worth of bribes during his tenure. Here are some equally jaw-dropping cases recently brought to light ; an executive was accused of cavorting with gigolos, a provincial official was found with 47 mistresses and a vice mayor admitted to having connection to a drug gang. The list goes on.
Upon learning the latest revelations, Mr. Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and the Chairman of the Party Central Military Commission, promised that he would battle both “tigers” and “flies”, expressing a strong commitment to scrutinize officials at all ranks. He also emphasized that one needs to be strong before one can hit iron, a Chinese saying which stresses the need for officials to be clean and virtuous before they can govern.
As if stuck in a vicious cycle, the effort the Party put in fighting corruption never really caught up with the rate of its re-emergence. The reason is not hard to deduce: persecution is never the answer to corruption. William Pitt, the British Prime Minister from 1766 to 1778 once said: “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it”. The solution lies in the reform of the power distribution system. Shujie Yao of Nottingham University suggests that in order to eradicate nepotism, government officials should be banned from getting privately involved with their family members. When it comes to business-related affairs, rather than letting state-run enterprises take over, he proposes that the Party should “reduce the monopolistic power of the large state-controlled enterprises and banks, and enable a more competitive and aspiring business environment where small and medium-sized enterprises as well as foreign invested firms can flourish and grow.”
Additionally, freedom of speech should be granted if the Chinese government desires to finally put a lid on corruption. Several corruption allegations have been found on China’s most popular online microblogs, where a post in December exposed and brought to justice the party secretary of an impoverished county in Yunnan who purchased 10 SUVs and went on a drinking spree with women. This surely constitutes one of the many victories against China’s infamous information filtering system.
Censorship will never be effective because it’s purely coercive; anything that calls into question the legitimacy of the Party ends up in the paper shredder. As a consequence, the muffled voice of the infuriated netizens will further fuel their passion to expose and condemn corrupt officials by capitalizing on the loopholes in the system unguarded by the “thought police”—but that’s not all—it also fuels a feeling of betrayal for being under-informed. Then the resentment grows and it will eventually take on the form of public grievance. All in all, the iron fist of the Party should focus on purifying the power system rather than silencing the minds of the observant few.
Reform is sorely needed indeed. In December there was an open letter on political reform posted on the Internet with 73 signatures of the proponents, some of whom were influential intellectuals teaching at some of China’s most prestigious universities. The letter warned that if the phenomenon of official corruption was not promptly dealt with, it would ultimately cause more turbulence and spoil the chance of any peaceful reforms.
Let’s hope that the “tigers” and “flies” will be punished, the voices of the people heard and their minds freed, and that reform will bring cleanliness to the trampled soil of Chinese politics.
– Alison Li
(featured photo: Leonard John Matthews, Creative Commons, Flickr)