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Creatively Corrupt: How Abuse Of Power In China Spreads -- And Innovates

Analysis: A new "blue book" on the deepening problem of corruption delves into the unusual ability for the unethical to find new techniques for abusing their power. The cure must be more just as deep as the illness.

(Jason A. Howie)
(Jason A. Howie)


BEIJING - Corruption in China is "spreading from individuals to groups, from personal illegal gains to shared community interests…" Such reads the summary of the Anti-Corruption Blue Book, recently published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). Needless to say, as public outrage at abuse of power swells, the Chinese public will delve into this eagerly awaited new document.

According to the report, the corrupt in China show a knack for constantly updating their illicit and unethical techniques; and not only are corrupt officials indulging in their consumptive pleasures, but are also ever busy pursuing more and more wealth.

China's corruption is also noteworthy for touching virtually all corners of society, from the economic, political and judicial fields to the social, cultural and educational ones. The emergence of "cross-border" (export-oriented) corruption is another trend.

In a country not exactly famous for innovation, this strong creative ability in the pursuit of corruption throws a particularly shameful and absurd light on contemporary China.

The professional report's findings confirm widespread public opinion about corruption in China. In recent years, corruption-related stories have been regularly at the top of the national news agenda, whether in the traditional press or across new media. There's never a lack of material for corruption coverage, nor any worry about public fatigue on the subject.

The non-stop shocking facts and the new records high marks for money stolen manage to always attract new attention – and outrage. Among the most stunning examples is Zhang Shuguang, the former deputy-chief engineer of the Railways Ministry. He managed to obtain a staggering amount of some 2 billion RMB ($317 million) in bribes and other abuses of power, swiftly deposited in the banks of America and Switzerland.

Little cure, Big cure

So what should be done to curb corruption? The Anti-Corruption Blue Book says some key solutions involve using technology as an important means of fighting corruption: the implementation of open online e-government services, the establishment of electronic monitoring systems based on administrative examination and approval, and the interaction between the public and the government via the Internet.

As the Blue Book points out, the lack of effective supervision and control are the chief causes of China's corruption phenomena. The use of technology provides an opportunity to improve the configuration of power, the regulation of power, as well as the prevention of the abuse of power.

As China's top social science research institution and think tank, the Academy's focus on science and technology offers important new ideas. Still, reading the report gives one the feeling that its authors are avoiding the most important point.

Corruption goes hand in hand with human society, and yet it is not an incurable illness. Very much to the contrary, human society has found very effective means of curbing corruption: a transparent system of tracking officials' property; public opinion; a truly independent judicial and auditing system; and of course, the government's willingness and ability for self-purification also plays an important role.

Though under ever-renewed guises, the causes of the current flux of corruption in China are nonetheless much the same - the lack of effective supervision and restriction of public power.

Unfortunately, even though we already understand all the notions of modern political civilization, authority can always be hijacked by vested interest groups.

The disease itself knows best what drug is most effective. China's rulers have issued countless documents, highlighted more and more moral examples to combat corruption -- but they have all failed. Simply calling on officials to exercise self-discipline and self-examination is like urging one's own right hand to supervise the left hand. Ultimately, it simply won't happen.

Let us recall what Zeng Jinchun, the corrupt secretary of the Chenzhou Commission for Discipline Inspection, said as a mantra before his execution. When asked by the press what would be the most effective method of preventing corruption, Zeng answered: "the power of public opinion." Though he was corrupt, Zeng's death gives us a lesson that should not to be forgotten.

Read the original article in Chinese

Photo - Jason A. Howie

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