Xi's Corruption Crackdown *Spoils* Chinese New Year

Times are tough for corrupt officials who have long counted on cashing in when the Chinese New Year festival arrives.

New Year's shopping in northern Chinese city of Taiyuan
New Year's shopping in northern Chinese city of Taiyuan
Laura Lin

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.

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.

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)

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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