Skip to content

Fighting Corruption: Grand Talk, No Action

In his farewell speech to kick off the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Hu Jintao warned that failing to tackle corruption “could prove fatal to the Party and even cause the collapse of the Party and the fall of the state.” [1]

These words sound familiar. Ten years ago, when Hu rose to the top position in the Party, his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, said in his farewell speech at the 16th Congress that the Party risked “heading for self-destruction” if they failed to get corruption under control. [2]

Days after the conclusion of the 18th Congress, the new paramount leader, Xi Jinping, said again in his first public address, “…there are many pressing problems within the Party that need to be resolved; especially problems such as corruption and bribe-taking by some of the Party members and cadres … must be resolved with great effort.” [3]

The talks go on. So does the Party officials’ rampant corruption.

The Party may die from corruption, but the question is, can it live without corruption?

Ever since 1949, when the Party took over China, the numerous political movements have failed to help the Party solidify its ruling position and triumph over its enemies; instead they simply demonstrated the nature of the Party itself. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, a vast majority of the people started to abandon Communist ideology. With the onset of the Persecution of Falun Gong in 1999, the Party again lost its moral high ground to convince the people of its ruling legitimacy. Coincidentally, corruption has surged over the past 20 years.

The reason behind the people’s rejection of Party ideology is clear: When no one believes in Communist ideology, the only way for the Party to gain popular support is to hand out material benefits, and the only way to recruit cadres and officials is to offer special privileges, i.e., the opportunity to benefit from corruption.

Even a Chinese elementary school student understands this logic.

In 2009, an online video called “I Want to Be a Greedy Corrupt Official” was widely circulated among Chinese netizens. On September 1, 2009, when all Guangzhou City elementary and middle schools opened as scheduled, a reporter interviewed several students. One first-year elementary school student spoke about her ideals and gave a very serious answer: “I want to be a government official.” The reporter asked, “What kind of government official would you like to be?” the student thought for a moment and then said, “A corrupt official! Because a corrupt official has lots of stuff.” [4]

If the Party didn’t allow its officials to enjoy the privileges of corruption, who would work for it? This is why the Party cannot afford to take concrete measures to eliminate corruption.

On October 25, the New York Times ran an explosive story alleging that family members of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao “have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.” [5]

An overseas news site reported that, in an attempt to prove his hands were clean, Wen wrote a letter to the Communist Party leadership, inviting them to conduct an open investigation of his and his family members’ assets. He also stated he would like to be permitted to make his personal wealth public. [6]

As a matter of fact, due to the ever-growing discontent of the Chinese public, the issue of disclosing  Party officials’ personal assets has been quite prominent in public discussions. So far, no action has been taken at the policy level, although the Party mouthpieces and senior officials continue to talk the talk.

The underlining worry is obvious: if Wen’s personal wealth were disclosed, would the Party then disclose the assets of millions of other officials?

In China, people well understand that the issue of corruption is a two edged sword, “If the Party tackles corruption, the Party will be destroyed; if it does not, the State will be destroyed.” It shows that the root of corruption is deep and entrenched: the Party encourages it, uses it to grease the ruling institutions and the system, and benefits from it in order to live on. Along the way, it chips away at individuals’ moral values, which then dooms any healthy society.

End Notes:
[1] Reuters: “Excerpts of Hu Jintao’s speech to China Party congress.” November 7, 2012                                                     
[2] Forbes: China Loading Up On Gold As Hedge Against U.S. Treasuries                                                                                  
[3] Council on Foreign Relations: Xi Jinping’s Speech After Appointment to Leadership, November 2012
[4] You Tube, “I want to be a greedy corrupt official,” September 3, 2009
[5] NY Times: Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader, October 25, 2012
[6] CNBC: How Wen Jiabao Undermined the Party’s Legitimacy, November 1, 2012