FIGHTING CORRUPTION IN CHINA
“Through the years,”James Pomfret of Reuters wrote, “China's leaders have repeatedly cautioned of the risks of endemic graft, including a sharp warning from Premier Wen Jiabao that a yawning wealth gap and graft could stoke public discontent at a time of rising inflation."I take the view that at present, corruption poses the biggest danger," Wen said in March 2011, while underscoring a need for carefully controlled political reforms.
A white paper released among government officials in December 2010 said “Strengthening the construction of a clean government and fighting graft” was the last of the ten major tasks to achieve in 2011 but admitted the task of combating corruption is “complicated and arduous.” “We must earnestly boost [cadres’] self-discipline in clean governance,’ Premier Wen Jiabao said as he urged officials to ‘self-consciously accept supervision’ by certain means including submitting regular reports to anti-graft agencies concerning their incomes, real-estate holdings, investments, as well as changes in the nationalities of their close kin. [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief, March 10, 2011]
Jaime FlorCruz of , CNN wrote: Despite repeated campaigns to stamp out corruption, it remains rife and is one of the most incendiary sources of public anger. "(Corruption) is so entrenched that honest officials are now part of a minority that risks being left behind," wrote the Economic Observer, a Chinese-language paper. "It is a system where corruption is the rule rather than the exception."
Wu Yuliang, deputy secretary of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party's anti-corruption body, said his anti-graft group investigated 139,621 cases of malfeasance in 2010 and punished 146,517 people. Of those cases, 5,373 have been referred to the courts for criminal persecution. [Source: CNN June 25, 2011]
Websites and Resources
Good Websites and Sources: Carnegie Endowment.orgcarnegieendowment.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ;Transparency International transparency.org Transparency International Articles About China transparency.org ; transparency.org ; Paper on Chinese Corruption PDF File unpan1.un.org/intradoc ; Book Chapter on on Chinese Corruption PDF File piie.com/publications ; Fighting Corruption: Carnegie Endowment.orgcarnegieendowment.org ; Anti-Corruption Conference beaconevents.com ; New York Times on Politics and Anti-Corruption nytimes.com
On the Government in China: Wikipedia article on the Government of China Wikipedia ; Chinese Government site on the Chinese Government english.gov.cn ; Directory of Government Branches cei.gov.cn ; U.S.-China Business Council Info on Chinese Government Branches uschina.org ; Chinese Government Branches /english.people.com.cn ; Guide to Chinese Government Agencies prcgovernment.org ; China.org, official Chinese government source < a href="http://www.china.org.cn/english/GS-e/44.htm"> china.org.cn ; National Flag, Anthem and Emblemchina.org.cn/english/features ; Information on Top Chinese Leaders China Vitae ; More on Top Chinese Officials cbw.com/govern ;China Elections and Governance Blog chinaelectionsblog.net ; CIA List of Current World Leaders /www.cia.gov/library
Links in this Website: GOVERNMENT IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; POLITICS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CONFUCIANISM AND COMMUNISM Factsanddetails.com/China ; COMMUNIST PARTY IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DEMOCRACY AND ELECTIONS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; BUREAUCRACY, WELFARE AND TAXES IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; RIOTS AND DEMONSTRATIONS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CORRUPTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; FIGHTING CORRUPTION IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Protests Against Corruption in China
Workers protests In September 1998, thousands of unhappy investors took to the streets in Guangdong to protest the loss of their savings in shady investment schemes. A month later, 200 villagers in the southern city of Guiyang protested a government land developed scheme. In Anhui Province, villagers wrote a petition to leaders about corrupt practices by village chiefs, who imposed heavy taxes. After the villagers took a local official hostages a settlement was worked and the village chiefs were given prison sentences.
In March 2002, 30,000 workers showed up at a demonstration to protest against corrupt company officials who skimmed employees pay for themselves. The labor leaders who organized the protest were sentence to jail terms for subversion.
In 2005, there were protests and riots in the village of Taishi, near Guangzhou, involving an alliance of farmers and activists, over the appointment of a corrupt Communist Party official as a village leader. The official was accused of skimming thousands of dollars of village funds. The protestors wanted the official replaced plus the right to chose their own leader democratically. Beijing felt particularly threatened by the protests because the farmers were aided by human rights lawyers, labor and democracy activists and they used websites and called in the foreign press to cover their activities.
There were clashes between farmers and police. Some activists were accused of being “plotters” and set to prison. One leader was badly beaten up. Through the use of sit ins, mass protests, hunger strikes, the protesters were able to get local government officials to hold an election for village chief and throw out the corrupt party member. Later government officials went back on their word and stationed paramilitary troops in Taishi.
Villagers in Taishi and other nearby villagers have also staged demonstration to protest the seizure of land, the low value of the compensation they were given for the land taken, and skimming of dividends intended for villagers by the Communist officials. Many of the protests were aimed at gaining access to accounting books that show exactly what happened to the money paid for seized land. Among those beaten up in altercations with police were a teenager and an elderly woman hurt after a crowd of villagers surrounded a police vehicle that was carrying away a villager that just been arrested and paramilitary forces were called in to break up the crowd.
In June 2009, a woman who killed a Communist Party official who demanded sex from her was released after spending only a couple months in jail. The 21-year-old woman, Deng Yujia, a waitress in a karaoke bar, became a kind of folk hero for fighting back against officials who abuse their power. She stabbed the official with a fruit knife and injured his colleague after the men—drunk at the time—cornered her and wouldn’t let her go.
Crackdowns on Corruption in China
There are periodic crackdowns on corruption, which are seen as ways of cleaning up corruption and sending a warning to others to clean up their act. On the numerous Chinese anti-graft campaigns in recent years, AP reported. “Some have seen judges and high-profile party figures sentenced to years in prison. Others have brought down some of China’s top corruption hunters, who were found to be lining their own pockets. One even saw the head of the country’s food and drug agency executed for approving fake medicine in exchange for cash.” Some Anti-corruption campaigns end up as purges aimed at eliminating political rivals and protecting friends and settle scores.
Former U.S. ambassador to China, James Lilley, told Time, "It's been said there are three options. Shoot the corrupt, let them go free, or muddle through. Their only option is the third."
Tens of thousands of low-level officials have been disciplined or punished in anti-corruption drives and their names have been made public. After a string of bank scandals bank employees were told they would be rewarded generously if they exposed corruption.
Some officials have spearheaded investigations of officials regarded as corrupt. In some cases the officials that called for the investigations not the corrupt officials ended up in labor camps despite their efforts being largely applauded by ordinary Chinese.
A massive nationwide audit finished in March 2006, found 114 cases if misused funds in 26 departments of the central government. Over $510 million in funds was recovered and dozens of officials were arrested. The funds had taken by falsifying budget reports, claiming excessive expenses and taking money allocated for water projects.
See Separate article: CRACKDOWNS, STIFF PENALTIES AND DEATH SENTENCES FOR CORRUPTION IN CHINA
Anti-Corruption Drives in China
Rules passed in June, 1996 prohibited government officials from helping spouses, grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephews and nieces. Anyone who broke the law was subject to "criticism and education."
In 1998, Prime Minister Zhu Rongji led an anti-corruption drive intended to "scare the monkey by killing the chicken." Zhu hoped that by cracking down hard on some high-profile cases others would fall in line. Zhu reportedly flew into a rage and decided something had to be done about corruption when he learned that the reason a dike melted away "like bean curd" during the Yangtze floods was because money intended for steel reinforcing bars ended up in the pockets of corrupt officials. He demanded a stop to "son-of-bitch construction projects."
In December 2006, the Chinese government launched a new anti-corruption drive. A Beijing mayor in charge of construction for the Olympics was arrested and new anti-corruption leaders were installed in Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities.
A corruption hotline was set up in June 2009. During it first week of operating it received so many calls (11,000, plus 6,000 messages on the hotline’s website) that the phone lines became overloaded and many people who wanted to provide tips and lodge complaints couldn’t get through.
Minxin Pei of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington estimates that the chances of a corrupt official going to jail is about 3 percent, which he said makes “corruption a high-return, low risk activity.”
Anti-Corruption Measures in China
After high level officials were implicated in bribery scandals the Beijing issued a list of six "serious mistakes" that officials should avoid such as using public funds to renovate homes, staying in pricey hotels, joining luxury country clubs and buying expensive cars. Zhu Rongji, Li Peng and other high-level Communist Party members switched from Mercedes to more understated Audis to show that they too were willing to make sacrifices.
New anti-corruption laws were put on the books in 2005. A training school for Communist officials now uses a anti-corruption textbook In 2007, children in elementary and middle school in Beijing began getting compulsory anti-corruption lessons in their “honest education” classes.
In an effort to crackdown n nepotism the introduced new policies in January 2007 which require officials to report and register jobs their relatives hold and use investigations to make sure families and relatives are not “offered special favors in jobs that benefit them.” In 2010 that senior cadres began submitting regular reports concerning their incomes, real-estate holdings, investments, as well as changes in the nationalities of their close kin to anti-graft agencies and the CCP Central Commission for Disciplinary Commission. Yet despite calls for more transparency, data such as the personal assets of top officials are neither publicized nor subject to independent auditing
In 2009, government officials were told to tone down their partying, gift giving, banquets and sightseeing trips using government money over the Chinese New Year as part of a crackdown on corruption. New Year is a time when a lot of expensive gifts or cash are given out to win favors, seal shady business deals and say thank you for some favor given.
In 2007, 30 percent of China’s top military officials were audited as part an anti-corruption campaign and warned that any officer that is caught will severely punished.
Proposals to have officials publically disclose their assets and income have failed to be endorsed. In April 2008, the Chinese government enacted a new law that was suppose to boost government transparency and address concerns about corruption. Many ordinary Chinese were unimpressed and said the thing they wanted to know most was the pay and assets of government officials. Critics contend that China’s one-party system breeds graft that only democratic reforms can check. But China’s leaders say the solution is not grass-roots checks on power, but smarter oversight and crime-fighting. [Source: New York Times]
Corruption cases are receiving more media coverage than they used to. Everyday it seems like there us some new revelation involving huge sums of money, Public policy specialists say China is shifting its emphasis from headline-grabbing corruption cases to more systematic ways to hold officials accountable. The government opened an anticorruption hot line last month to encourage whistle-blowers. A few localities require that officials disclose their family assets to the party. [Source: New York Times]
Anti- Corruption Laws in China
The CCDI, the party’s Organization Department and other units have since the mid-2000s issued numerous instructions and codes of practices against the so-called marriage of power and money. For example, the CCP passed in August 2006 a series of rules on the avoidance system, meaning cadres should avoid situations leading to conflict of interests. It warned senior party and government officials against allowing or conniving at spouses and children engaging in businesses within [the cadres’] jurisdiction. [Source: Russell Hsiao, China Brief, June 24, 2010]
In July 2010, assent disclosure laws were expanded to include the business activities of spouses and children. Earlier in the year a document called Certain Regulations on Clean Governance of Leading CCP Cadres listed 52 areas of pitfalls that could result in corruption and other economic crimes. Section Five of the code says cadres must not allow spouses or children, as well as children’s spouses, to pursue private gain by using the former’s privileged positions. Moreover, senior officials must not provide beneficial conditions for the business activities of relatives. [Source: Russell Hsiao, China Brief, June 24, 2010]
In 2008 new regulations were passed that allowed prosecutors to arrest relatives and “secret lovers” of corrupt Chinese officials, giving them seven year sentences if they used the officials position to accept bribe or otherwise profit illegally.
As part of anti-corruption effort launched in 2009, Beijing asked government officials to declare their assets and the assets and work of their children and spouses. The party has also ordered nationwide background checks to enure that "naked officials" (corrupt officials that flee abroad) did not take important posts. Regions like Shenzhen now demand all officials taking important posts to declare whether spouses or children have moved overseas.
Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao and Fighting Corruption
In an apparent indication that the Chinese government was going to make fighting corruption a top priority Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao promised in a major speech before the National People’s Congress in March 2010 that failure to check corruption will have “direct bearing” on the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on power. In a similar speeches President Hu Jintao and other Politburo members have issued tough new warnings against cadres using their connections to help relatives get rich. For example, Hu vowed at a CCDI conference early this year to redouble efforts to combat power abuse and related misdemeanors. Hu also urged, the promotion of a corruption-free working style among senior cadres. [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief, March 10, 2011]
When asked to comment on punishment of the leader of China’s railway minister, accused of stealing hundreds of millions of yuan, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in an online chat with netizens in February 2011 that it showed Beijing's determination to crack down on official corruption. However, he admitted that the abuse of power by the highest-ranking leader of a region or institution was possible because "our government and major officials have too much power. Power is too centralized without restriction."
Wen said this year Beijing would make curbing official corruption its top priority, and that Beijing would strengthen public supervision of government operations. He declined to give any concrete measures, and admitted that it would take some time for China to open its government budget to public supervision.
In a speech given during the 90th anniversary of Communist party in July 2011 Chinese president Hu Jintao warned that the Communist party was still suffering from corruption and other "growing pains." Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian, “In a highly choreographed event that was broadcast live across the nation, Hu lauded the achievements of the venerable and vast political party but emphasised the need for greater internal discipline. His message was partly overshadowed by the mysterious absence of his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, from the lineup of senior cadres. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian July 1, 2011]
"If corruption does not get solved effectively, the party will lose the people's trust and support. The entire party should stay alert and fully appreciate the long-term complexity and arduousness of the fight against corruption, and make more efforts in fighting corruption and building a clean government," Hu said. Hu gave little hope, however, to those seeking wider political reform that might curb the power of cadres, some of whom he acknowledged were "incompetent" and "divorced from the people". Instead of radical change, he said, the party needed more internal democracy. A few days earlier Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to give top priority to the anti-corruption drive. "Each party member and cadre must abide by the law, be cautious and prudent and practice self-discipline."
Wen Promise Crackdown on Corruption During the Bo Xilai Scandal
In April 2012, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao has promised tougher curbs on corruption and abuse of power as officials scrambled to limit the political blowback from the Bo Xilai scandal. Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “In an article for Communist party journal Seeking Truth, Wen said regional governments that allowed "important cases" of corruption or failed to act quickly would be held responsible. He promised reforms in areas relating to accountability and said governments should immediately investigate problems reported by the people and the media. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, April 15, 2012]
Communist party leaders frequently cite corruption as a major threat to stability and pledge to step up the fight against it, but the problem remains rampant despite occasional crackdowns and arrests of high-profile figures. Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post, “Corruption has persisted, even worsened, despite the stated efforts of Premier Wen Jiabao and other top leaders to rein in the problem. The party has taken steps announced with much public fanfare, such as requiring all officials at higher than the county level to disclose their assets. That regulation was later amended to require that officials also disclose the assets of family members. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, June 15, 2012]
“The biggest obstacle to reform, experts said, is a lack of political will. Measures intended to combat corruption, those regulations have largely been ignored or proven ineffective. There remains no requirement that the asset declarations be made public. “Only when the regime is endangered and stability is threatened will they really start to combat corruption,” said Ren Jianming, a Tsinghua University professor and director of the Center for Integrity Research and Education, which studies corrupt practices. [Ibid]
China’s Sunshine Policy
Sunshine legislation obliging cadres who have attained a certain seniority to publicize their wealth—as well those of their spouses and kids—is widely seen as the best way to tackle China’s corruption problem. ‘Sunshine’ laws in the United States require that government data be made available to the public.
According to reports in China and Hong Kong papers, a number of progressive cadres had proposed just such a sunshine policy at the Fourth Plenum of the CCP Central Committee, which was held in September 2009. The idea, however, was not adopted at the plenary session. Thus far, only individual provinces and cities have come up with less stringent financial disclosure regulations affecting local-level officials. For example, the Shanxi Province branch of the CCDI issued a ruling early this year saying that senior cadres in the central-China province must report their properties, investments and other assets to superior anti-corruption units. They must also submit a file on the professions and business dealings of spouses and offspring. There was no specification, however, about public disclosure of such information . [Source: Russell Hsiao, China Brief, June 24, 2010]
Local Sunshine Policy in China
In recent years, Beijing has encouraged regional authorities to introduce ‘Sunshine’ policies that tackle corruption through increase transparency. Some local governments have passed such laws. The most impressive example is Baimiao township under Bazhou district of Bazhong city, Sichuan province. A township is the lowest-ranking administrative unit in China's bureaucratic hierarchy. Baimiao has less than 10,000 people yet it still has its own party committee and government. [Source: Wu Zhong, Asia Times, June 16, 2010]
The policy, publicized on the local government's website in 2010, details government revenues and expenditure as well as the salaries and fringe benefits paid to incumbent and retired officials. Baimiao government became fully transparent, so much so that media dubbed it China's first ‘fully naked’ government. [Ibid]
In an interview, Baimiao township party secretary Zhang Yingshang said the idea for his transparency exercise came two years ago while he was studying at a Bazhong city party school. Answering a charge raised by a blogger that Baimiao had hidden accounts and that the online ones were fake, Zhang said all expenditures had to be scrutinized by the township's party disciplinary inspection commission. [Ibid]
Government Attempts to Reign In Luxury Car Corruption
Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Nervous about heightened sensitivity to corruption, the government is trying to rein in the most extravagant cars. New regulations being drafted this year are supposed to limit the base price of cars to $11,000 for most bureaucrats, and restrict the engine size of government cars and the ranks of those entitled to a private vehicle and driver. "Below the rank of minister or deputy minister, they won't be entitled to an exclusive car and will have to use a car from the fleet," said Zhang Yu, managing director of Automotive Foresight, a Shanghai industry consulting firm. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2012]
But this isn't the first initiative to limit government car purchases. In 2004, municipal governments in the cities of Chengdu, Nanjing and Hangzhou sold off many of their official cars, telling bureaucrats that they could apply for reimbursements for rentals when needed. Nevertheless, spending on government cars has enjoyed double-digit growth since then. "They have been trying to tackle this problem since the 1980s, but it never goes away," said Wang, of the Academy of Governance.
Government officials have proved ingenious, however, at getting around the regulations. One trick is to change the metal emblems on the cars to make them look cheaper than they actually are. "Whenever a new regulation comes out, we get customers from the government," said Han Chao, who runs a small storefront shop selling Audi parts in a market in the south of Beijing.
Recently, he said, he sold 100 emblems for the Audi A6 2.0L (the smallest engine for the popular model) to officials from the city of Zhangbei, northwest of Beijing, so they could disguise the fact that their engines were larger than permitted. "Most people want to buy logos to upgrade so they can save face," Han said. "Only the government people buy emblems to downgrade the cars." The emblems, Han noted, cost 20 yuan each, about $3. But the officials, he said, demanded receipts saying they'd paid 120 yuan.
Legal Action Against Corruption in China
Since 1999, periodic audits have uncovered billions of dollars of fraud and misused funds. In August 2008 a report was issued that accused ten central government agencies, including the powerful Ministry of Finance, of misusing and embezzling $660 million in 2007. An addition $1 billion was “mismanaged.” According to the report 88 people had been arrested, 14 had been referred to prosecutors and 104 had been punished for their roles in various schemes.
The Chinese government said that it investigated 209,487 people for corruption and abuses of their offices between 2002 and 2007. About 30 percent were found guilty. A total of 35,255 cases involved embezzlement or taking bribes exceeding 100,000 yuan ($14,000) More than 5,000 officials at the county level and above were punished for corruption in 2008 according to state media.
Chinese Anti-Corruption Course
Renmin University university offers anti-corruption courses and is helping to train 30 masters students at to investigate corrupt officials. Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, Other professors began the year by stressing high academic standards. He Jiahong ordered his students not to buy teachers gifts or take them out for dinner. The law professor has particular reason for scrupulousness: his course at Beijing's prestigious Renmin University is China's first on investigating corruption. Top government prosecutors are helping train 30 masters students to interrogate suspects and administer lie detector tests in pursuit of crooked officials.” [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 18, 2011]
Professor He has spent more time than most thinking about corruption —in his academic career, as a prosecution official and even in the popular detective novels he has penned in his spare time. His instructions to students underline the endemic nature of corruption in the country. "The parents generally don't want special favors for their kids. If they don't give [professors gifts], they think their child may not be treated equally," he said. "To bribe for equal treatment —that's really sad." [Ibid]
He's young students are idealistic as well as angry. Xiong Hao decided to turn his back on social work after his hometown of Chongqing launched a high-profile crackdown on organized crime. Like many residents he was appalled at the scale of complicity that emerged; the former deputy police chief, Wen Qiang, was executed earlier this year for taking bribes to shield gangsters. Since then, more than 170 others had been sacked for similar collusion. [Ibid]
"There were so many officials who committed corruption and it affected so many people's lives. I thought by choosing this course I could do something meaningful to change things," he said. "We are only 30 students, but I think it's an important signal; it means our government is emphasising solving the problem." [Ibid]
"The [suspects] are public officials so they might have power and useful relationships. It's not like murder or theft, where you are dealing with street guys. Local governments support investigation of those crimes, but sometimes with a corruption investigation you cannot get support," added He. [Ibid]
He hopes his graduates will become leaders in their field, but said prevention was more important than investigation or punishment. "We have the death penalty but we still have so many corrupt officials," he pointed out, arguing that tighter rules on declaring assets were needed, along with an amnesty so corrupt officials can start afresh and —most ambitiously —rule of law. [Ibid]
Cracking Down on Gambling by Chinese Officials and Its Affect on Macao
Osnos wrote: “Among themselves, Chinese officials no longer pretend that the problem doesn’t exist. Speaking at a national legislative conference in January, 2010, Chen Jixing, the Party Secretary of the southern city of Jiangmen, said that he had sent his own staff down to Macau to check casinos for signs of Chinese public servants gambling away the treasury. Chen told the group, “If you’re the head of public security, and you’ve been to Macau twenty-something times in one year, what were you doing there? Buying medicine? You really expect us to believe that? So many Chinese officials have been arrested for embezzling funds through Macau that two scholars devoted a study to the subject. Zeng Zhonglu and David Forrest calculated that the average corrupt official or senior manager in a state-owned company lost $3.3 million before getting caught. If the scale of money involved in the Bo Xilai case seems implausible, these cases are worth remembering.
McDonald wrote: “The scandals have become a source of deep embarrassment for the Chinese government, which has now begun cracking down on travel visas for Macao. China had tried repeatedly to clamp down on gambling by public officials but had never had much success until hitting on the idea of limiting visas. The new visa regulations, which went into effect last summer, limit mainland officials to just one trip every three months, and for no more than seven days, and have been highly effective, gambling analysts and scholars say. It has been a very, very serious problem, but it’s better now, said Mr. Zeng, the author of the study on high rollers. The mainland government has strict controls over officials coming to Macao.” [Source: Mark McDonald, New York Times, January 14, 2009]
“But along the way, the restrictions have helped turn Macao’s boom into something of a bust, a connection that was underscored on Monday, when the stocks of Macao casino companies plunged by a fifth after Beijing announced that it would retain the visa controls. Share prices of the companies are down more than 80 percent on average from their highs a year ago.”
“Casino bosses, tour operators, shop owners, restaurateurs and hoteliers say they are feeling the pain from what Samuel Yeung, the manager of the landmark Hotel Lisboa, calls the tightening control of mainland China. Gambling revenues are plunging and luxury shops are empty. Soaring hotel and apartment towers stand half-finished. Thousands of construction and casino workers have been fired. Last month at the Venetian, half the singing gondoliers on its indoor Grand Canal were abruptly fired.”
Human Flesh Search Engines
Blogs sometimes serve as underground police and morality and corruption checks in China. “Human flesh search engines” is the term used to describe the online of community of cyber sleuths and vigilantes that use the Internet to expose perceived wrongdoers and bring attention to mistakes made by the media and the government. The community has millions of members and a following that numbers at least in the tens of million and perhaps hundreds of millions.
Investigators use databases, photo analysis, search engines, social networking sites and hacking into online accounts. The most damaging postings are often video or photographs dug up somewhere that show someone doing something really bad and millions of people see it. The targets are often government officials. The government has a hard time controlling them.
Middle-level officials spotted smoking expensive cigarettes wearing fancy watches or driving in luxury cars sometimes are photographed by Internet sleuths who post the images online on “human flesh search engines” for all to see. Some have been investigated for embezzlement and fired. There are also examples of businessmen wining and dining officials and secretly taping the encounter and turning the tables demanding that the officials do what the businessmen want, threatening to turn the officials in if they don’t do what the businessmen want.
Officials Caught with Human Flesh Search Engines
One video that appeared in October 2008, showed an unnamed official in the city of Shenzhen in a confrontation with family members of an 11-year-old girl he allegedly tried to force into a restroom. In it the official said, “I did it, so what? How much money do you want? Give me a price. I will pay it.” Then he points to the girl’s father and says, “Do you now who I am? I was sent here by the Transportation Ministry in Beijing. I have the same seniority as your mayor. So what if I grabbed a little child’s neck.” It wasn’t long before the official was identified, Lin Jiaxiang, a party secretary in the Shenzhen Maritime Administration, and fired. Another cadre was fired when bloggers noticed he was wearing a $15,000 Swiss watch.
In December 2007, in a another well known case, a woman named Jiang Yan committed suicide by jumping from the 24th floor of building. In a blog found after she died she blamed her husband’s affair. Cybersleuths tracked down the husband Wang Fei, and published online details of his life. Wang received death threats and messages like “pay back your wife’s bloody death.” His parents were harassed. People picketed outside his workplace, forcing him to quit his advertising job.
In 2010, Han Feng, a mid-level party official in southern China, got into trouble when his private diary was posted online. In the diary, he catalogued not just the hefty bribes he was taking, but detailed his sexual escapades with co-workers and mistresses. The ensuing online uproar led to his sacking and a criminal investigation.
Videotapes of corrupt party elite show them giving $3,000 tips at a favorite restaurant and paying karaoke bar hostesses $1,000 to sing a favorite song. Video equipment intended for a school ends up in the home of a chief. Mah-jongg is also a convenient ways to pass a bribe. Businessmen often play with officials that always win.
Chinese Official Detained for Underage Rapes after Weibo Uproar
In May 2012, Reuters reported: “Police in central China detained Li Xingong, a former Communist Party official, on suspicion or raping underage girls, state media said, following an online uproar about the latest case of abuse of power. The man, who was the party's deputy head in Yongcheng city in Henan province, is accused of assaulting more than ten girls during police interrogations, the official Xinhua news agency reported. City authorities have "ordered swift and severe punishment on the suspect in accordance with relevant laws", it added. [Source: Reuters, May 27, 2012]
The case has been widely discussed on China's wildly popular Twitter-like microblogging site Weibo, after reports about the rapes naming him as the perpetrator began circulating online over the past week. "Officials these days are all like this. It's really terrible," wrote one Weibo user. "These dog officials are everywhere. Only execution will sate the public's anger," wrote another. “Only execution will sate the public's anger,” wrote yet another. [Ibid]
“While the government has encouraged people to take to the internet to expose corruption and abuse of power, especially at the grassroots level, it generally keeps a tight rein on what can be said about similar problems with more senior officials. [Ibid]
Obstacles to Fighting Corruption in China
"The Communist Party can mobilize human and financial resources to do something. It has the institutional capacity to mobilize or to suppress," Liao Ran, program officer for China and South Asia at Transparency International, told the New York Times. "If it wanted to control corruption, it could do it." Yet, far from fearing corruption, he said, officials and businessmen "are afraid if you are not corrupt. They want you to be corrupt. If you don’t join in, if you want to be a good person, then you highlight their badness." Mr. Liao’s quixotic conclusion: Because of government involvement, "corruption in China is very serious and very rampant. And under control." [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow , New York Times, August 24, 2011]
As a rule whistle blowing is generally not welcomed. Whistle blowers are sometimes viscously attacked and harassed by party members they have targeted. In August 2004, a whistle-blower who attracted nationwide attention by accusing his superiors in Fuzhou city in the southern county of Lianjiang of tolerating official corruption was denounced for breaking party rules and ordered to “do a complete self-examination” by Communist party officials.
In August 2004, a low-level cadre made headlines with an open letter in the People’s Daily in which he complained that his efforts to fight corruption were often stymied by more senior officials. “I couldn’t get any support from local leaders or departments, I was puzzled, ” he wrote..” He then detailed a case against a dishonest local official and the businessmen he worked with and described the “underlying rules” used by corrupt Chinese official to protect one another. Perhaps what was most extraordinarily was the willingness of the government to let the letter be published in a periodical regarded as a mouthpiece for the government.
Laws against business corruption are rarely enforced. The government refuses to take steps such as creating an independent judiciary and unshackling the media, which would do the most to tackle corruption. Censors have also imposed media blackouts on the coverage if corruption cases.
Even though senior leaders have described the battle against corruption as a life and death struggle for the party and launched repeated campaigns and made high-profile arrests, corruption remains entrenched as ever. Government measures seem to have had little effect; perhaps, say cynics, because the latter often owe as much to political infighting as the level of misbehavior involved. Even those supposed to uphold the law have proved adept at breaking it. In September a senior anti-corruption official received a suspended death sentence for taking 7.71m yuan (about $1 billion) in bribes to help people gain advantages in business and court cases or avoid arrest. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian]
James Pomfret of Reuters wrote, “The stranglehold on power by Communist Party officials, particularly at a local level, and the lack of an independent judiciary and free media, have severely hampered efforts to clean up governance as China's booming economy and ultra-capitalist impulses present ever greater opportunities for graft.”
Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian, “While democracy does not guarantee clean government —India and Argentina rate worse than China in the corruption perception rankings produced by Transparency International —many think it is impossible to rein in officials unless they are properly accountable to citizens. Mao Yushi, a Beijing-based expert on governance, said independent courts are the key: "We need to push for an independent judicial system and political reform. "The Communist party cannot monopolise power and rights should be returned to the people".
Resistance to Local Sunshine Policy in China
A full ‘Sunshine’ policy like the one piloted in Baimiao would destroy the ‘hidden rules’ prevailing among officials and business people that ensures opaque governance and allows corruption. The resistance is strong. Baimiao could be compared to a 21st-century Don Quixote taking on a giant windmill. Even before Baimiao received the blessing of the power center to introduce its ‘Sunshine’ policy, it ran into delays and ‘punishments’ from officialdom and business circles. [Source: Wu Zhong, Asia Times, June 16, 2010]
According to a report by Chengdu Commercial Daily on June 7, township party secretary Zhang has complained that since the ‘Sunshine’ policy was widely reported in mid-March, Baimiao government operations have been virtually boycotted by higher-level authorities. [Ibid]
“Now much fewer officials from our superior government make work trips to Baimiao. Those who do come refuse to dine with us, even during meal times. I find it sad and hard to understand. Given our normal work relations, it's nothing strange for them to have lunch or dinner with us. Why do they prefer to leave with an empty stomach?” Zhang said. [Ibid]
In China, business is often negotiated at dinner tables. No wining and dining (and often bribes), no business. This is even true for government-to-government business. The ‘Sunshine’ policy has effectively cut off Baimiao's guanxi (connections) with the outside world. Many of the Baimiao government's projects have been shelved or boycotted. [Ibid]
Director of Baimiao township Ou Mingqing told Chengdu Commercial Daily that to improve people's livelihoods the local authorities had devised projects to expand and renovate the township's water and electricity supplies, and road network. The projects were approved and supported by leaders of the Bazhou district. ‘However, only the city bureau of electricity said it would try to help later this year. All other relevant authorities either said they did not have the funds or plans for our projects,’ a frustrated Ou said. [Ibid]
Feebleness of Chinese Corruption-Fighting Efforts
Every year Beijing announces new anticorruption drives, new laws and new policies aimed at dealing with the problem. But every year the scale of fraud seems enormous, particularly in a country where the average person earns less than $50 a week. [Source: New York Times]
There are no checks and balances to prevent putatively virtuous officials from abusing their powers. This is despite President Hu’s pledge during his early 2010 CCDI address that the CCP would work harder at the construction of an anti-corruption mechanism. Thus, Hu called for intensified and improved publicity on anti-corruption measures, reform and improvement of intra-party supervision, expanded supervision channels, and the establishment of an anti-corruption information database and network Owing to the lack of an independent anti-graft agency, however, what Hu called intra-party supervision has amounted to little more than the CCP investigating itself. [Source: Russell Hsiao, China Brief, June 24, 2010]
“Politburo members in charge of discipline and personnel have continued to put priority over personalities—meaning picking trustworthy candidates for high office—instead of introducing institutional safeguards. The emphasis on nurturing virtuous officials of exemplary moral rectitude of course goes back to the Confucianist ethos.” [Ibid]
In 2009, the Study Times, the mouthpiece of the Central Party School, raised eyebrows when it ran an article suggesting that newly hired cadres should set an example by publicizing their personal properties. The piece pointed out that fresh recruits should be subjected to higher demands [because] they are relatively young, more willing to accept new things, and are expected soon to shoulder heavy responsibilities. For liberal commentator Sheng Xiong, however, the Study Times article is an insult to the intelligence of the public. He wrote in Procuratorial Daily, an organ of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, that in China’s system, it is always seniors and veterans who set an example for juniors. [Source: Jamestown Foundation, China Brief, Willy Lam, August 17, 2009]
Shutdown of www.ibribery.com
Jaime FlorCruz of , CNN wrote: “The press, aided by netizens, has been working zealously to expose the corruption cases. Internet users have set up websites designed to help blow the whistle. Public relations consultant Chen Hong started a website — www.ibribery.com— allowing visitors to anonymously post their experiences of bribing officials. Some netizens exposed officials who demanded cars and villas, police officers who asked for cash incentives to not issue traffic tickets and doctors who wanted money to ensure safe surgical procedures. [Source: CNN June 25, 2011]
Chen's website, www.ibribery.com, drew 200,000 unique visitors in two weeks. Its anonymous posts mentioned officials who demanded luxury cars and villas; police officers who needed inducements not to issue traffic tickets; and doctors receiving cash under the table to ensure safe surgical procedures. In June 2011, a few weeks after it debuted, Chinese censors shut down the website down. [Source: Associated Press, The Guardian June 22, 2011]
Chen said censors blocked access to the site for people inside China and, worried that he was risking trouble. "Bribery has just become a way of life in China and everyone is affected," said Chen. "I didn't want the site to be perceived as a threat, but more to help them solve problems that already exist."
Chen, who copied an idea from India, said he thought about ordinary citizens like his mother, a junior high school teacher, who often fends off gifts of money, food, and crafts from parents hoping for preferential treatment for their children. Within days of Chen's site going live, several other bribery reporting sites surfaced, but they have been shut, too.
Wu Yuliang, a vice chairman of the Communist party's anti-corruption agency, said at a news conference that the government valued the role the internet can play in combatting corruption. However, he said, such websites should operate in accordance to law. "I'm sure they're worried that the site will get out of control without proper monitoring and create havoc," Chen said. "I understand their concerns, but I will look into restarting the site even if it's blocked." He said he was applying for a licence with China's internet control body, hoping to gain approval to operate the site on the mainland. He is working with about 30 other volunteers from around the country to improve the site while it is offline.
Meantime, other netizens have set up copycat sites like www.522phone.com and www.wohuixingle.info vowing to out corrupt officials.
Cracking Down on Naked Officials and Obstacles to Catching Them
The Communist party ordered nationwide background checks to enure that "naked officials" did not take important posts. Regions like Shenzhen now demand all officials taking important posts to declare whether spouses or children have moved overseas. The biggest hurdle to having them returned is that China only has extradition policies with 37 countries. Naked officials often try to gain permanent residence overseas. According to the Global Times as many as 4,000 officials have disappeared abroad, using criminal gangs, mainly in the United States and Australia, to launder the money they told buy real estate and set up false identities.
Barbara Demick and David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The practice has become so endemic in China’s officialdom that the Communist Party’s top disciplinary body is enacting an “anti flight” program to keep people in place. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection reviewed ways to keep people from moving abroad, including confiscating passports and registering family members living overseas as a way to monitor who might be kept out of high positions. [Source: Barbara Demick and David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2012]
The communist government has been trying to put officials on a shorter leash since 2007, amid a flurry of scandals in which public funds were squandered on mistresses, luxury villas, cars and gambling.“We should set up a more tight-knit and effective system to prevent lawless state functionaries from fleeing overseas,” said Gan Yisheng, the commission’s deputy secretary, according to the agency’s website. “It’s very hard for the government to control this. They might hold your official passport, but most people will have a private passport as well and they can slip out of the country with that,” said He. [Ibid]
“Barbara Demick and David Pierson wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “For every new restriction implemented, people come up with loopholes. The fake divorce, for example. “The Chinese Communist Party is very strict about officials and their families having green cards or foreign passports. If they find out, that’s the end of your political career, but people will do a divorce on paper and then remarry,” said Ding Xueliang, a Hong Kong-based political scientist. [Ibid]
Protection for Well-Connected Officials in China
Hu Haifeng, the 38-year-old son of President Hu was the head of Nuctech Company Limited, a manufacturer of high-tech scanning devices, until 2008. In 2009, the company was accused by anti-graft agencies in Namibia of having used bribes and other illegal means to obtain a government contract worth $55.3 million. There is no evidence that Hu, who has since been promoted party secretary of Tsinghua Holdings, which controls Nuctech and 30-odd other companies, either knew or approved of the shady deal. Yet Namibian authorities wanted to question him as a witness. The same day that the story broke in mid-July, however, the CCP Propaganda Department ordered all media and Internet websites not to carry the news. Chinese Netizens have also been blocked from reading or finding any reference to either Hu or Nuctech. [Source: Jamestown Foundation, China Brief, Willy Lam, August 17, 2009]
Image Sources: Black Cat; Asia Obscura http://asiaobscura.com/ ;
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated August 2012