Times are tough for corrupt officials who have long counted on cashing in when the Chinese New Year festival arrives.
BEIJING — Since Xi Jinping took over as Chinese leader last year, a crackdown on corruption has been at the center of his domestic agenda.
China's government officials are said to be feeling the strain of the new clean-"em-up policy. But things promise to get especially tight as the Chinese New Year approaches at the end of this month, as bureaucrats have long counted on getting bribed with all kinds of swag for the annual holiday.
Chinese people have long been accustomed to use the present-exchanging festival as the occasion to pay tribute to officials. Since China’s economy took off a decade ago, this traditional has made many a corrupt official's appetite for graft insatiable.
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When President Xi took office he ordered various bans, including one on accepting presents, in order to improve the officials’ “working style,” But because the gifts were counted on as part of annual income, officials risk finding themselves substantially poorer.
The Beijing News interviewed 100 civil servants, of whom 92 said that their incomes had decreased, while 79 said they regret that they won't be able to accept the presents like they used to.
For Zhang and Chen, a Jianxi couple who both work for the government, the abundant presents they used to receive around festival seasons (including shopping or gift vouchers and high-end liquors, as well as cigarettes) meant that “our daily expenses cost us very little of our own money," said Zhang to the newspaper.
Mooncake. Photo by jeff_dizon via Instagram
“I don’t even dare accept a Moon cake!” said Xu, a deputy section-level cadre from Fujian province, whose work involves assessing private companies. He used to get “free cigarettes and around ten shopping vouchers annually, not to mention the endless free lunches.
According to a blog called “Presents and All That” published by Caixin magazine, in China’s rich coastal cities a middle-level official with decent pull-power could receive enough gift cards to be able to buy an Audi A6.
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Even a vice-principal of a well-known primary or secondary school who is responsible for student recruitment can receive gift vouchers to the tune of thousands of dollars at the Moon Festival.
Year of the Horse arriving in Singapore (gurkhason via Instagram)
Shopping vouchers are a favorite, but it’s food and beverages that have been the most common items for bribing corrupt officials over the years. However, under the current government’s crackdown on corruption, the traditionally popular liquor and seafood — like shark fins, sea cucumbers and abalone — have all seen their prices drop thanks to low sales figures, according to the United Daily.
Watches have always been a favorite. But this year top-shelf brands like Rolex, Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin have been replaced with Omega, Longines, Rado and Tudor because of their less ostentatious nature.
In the unconventional category there are the paintings. As Caixin reported, when Wang Tianyi, a former public security bureau director, was arrested for alleged corruption, staff seized 195 works of art and calligraphies.
Fan Zeng, the best-selling living Chinese painter, according to the 2012 Hurun Art List, once jokingly said that the fact that his paintings keep soaring is “thanks to the corrupt Chinese officials!”
Fan Zeng. (Photo by Laura Lin)