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Corruption in China

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Corruption in China

China suffers from widespread corruption. For 2013, China was ranked 80th out of 178 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, on par with Serbia and Trinidad and Tobago, ranking less corrupted with tied countries Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Jamaica, Panama, and Peru, but more corrupted than Sri Lanka and most developed countries. Means of corruption include graft, bribery, embezzlement, backdoor deals, nepotism, patronage, and statistical falsification.[1]

Cadre corruption in post-1949 China lies in the "organizational involution" of the ruling party, including the Chinese Communist Party's policies, institutions, norms, and failure to adapt to a changing environment in the post-Mao era[2] caused by the market liberalization reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping. Like other socialist economies that have gone through monumental transition, such as post-Soviet Eastern Europe and Central Asia, post-Mao China has experienced unprecedented levels of corruption,[3] making corruption one of the major hindrances to the PRC's social and economic development.

Public surveys on the mainland since the late 1980s have shown that it is among the top concerns of the general public. According to Yan Sun, Associate Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York, it was corruption, rather than democracy as such, that lay at the root of the social dissatisfaction that led to the Tiananmen protest movement of 1989.[3] Corruption undermines the legitimacy of the CCP, adds to economic inequality, undermines the environment, and fuels social unrest.[4]

Since then, corruption has not slowed down as a result of greater economic freedom, but instead has grown more entrenched and severe in its character and scope. Business deals often involve participation in corruption.[5] In popular perception, there are more dishonest CCP officials than honest ones, a reversal of the views held in the first decade of reform of the 1980s.[3] China specialist Minxin Pei argues that failure to contain widespread corruption is among the most serious threats to China's future economic and political stability.[4] Bribery, kickbacks, theft, and misspending of public funds costs at least three percent of GDP. China, though not a member of the OECD has participated as an observer in the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions, see OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.


  • Historical overview 1
    • Imperial China 1.1
    • Republican era 1.2
  • People's Republic of China 2
  • Public perceptions 3
  • Means 4
    • Housing 4.1
  • Effects 5
  • Countermeasures 6
    • Political incentives for cracking down 6.1
  • Individuals 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
    • Bibliography 9.1
    • Footnotes 9.2
  • External links 10

Historical overview

Imperial China

The spread of corruption in traditional China is often connected to the Confucian concept of renzhi, "government of the people" as opposed to the legalist "government of the law". Profit (li) was despised as preoccupation of the base people, while the true Confucians were supposed to be guided in their actions by the moral principle of justice (yi). Thus, all relations were based solely on mutual trust and propriety. As a matter of course, this kind of moral uprightness could be developed only among a minority. The famous attempt of Wang Anshi to institutionalize the monetary relations of the state, thus reducing corruption, were met with sharp criticism by the Confucian elite. As a result, corruption continued to be widespread both in the court (Wei Zhongxian, Heshen) and among the local elites, and became one of the targets for criticism in the novel Jin Ping Mei. Another kind of corruption came about in Tang China, developed in connection with the imperial examination system.

Republican era

The widespread corruption of the Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist Party, is often credited as being an important component in the defeat of the KMT by the Communist People's Liberation Army. Though the Nationalist Army was initially better equipped and had superior numbers, the KMT's rampant corruption damaged its popularity, limited its support base, and helped the communists in their propaganda war.

See History of the Republic of China, and Black gold (politics) for more on these topics.

People's Republic of China

Getting high quality, reliable, and standardised survey data on the severity of corruption in the PRC is enormously difficult. However, a variety of sources can still be tapped, which "present a sobering picture," according to Minxin Pei, an academic with expertise on Chinese affairs.[6]

Official deviance and corruption have taken place at both the individual and unit level since the founding of the PRC. Initially the practices had much to do with the

  • Transparency International - international research and policies
  • Chinese National Integrity System Study
  • Promoting Transparent Procurement and strengthening Corporate Responsibility in China
  • Systemic Corruption in the Construction Sector brings Chinese and International Experts Together
  • China's Governance Crisis Report
  • China Corruption Profile from the Business Anti-Corruption Portal
  • Corruption in China Today: Consequences for Governance, Human Rights, and Commercial Rule of Law: Roundtable Before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, One Hundred Thirteenth Congress, First Session, November 21, 2013
  • Gem-encrusted moon cakes, corruption, and the law

External links

  1. ^ Lü 2000, p.10
  2. ^ Lü 2000, p.229
  3. ^ a b c d e Yan 2004, p. 2
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Minxin Pei, Corruption Threatens China's Future, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Policy Brief No. 55, October 2007.
  5. ^ Murong Xuecun (May 8, 2012). "No Roads Are Straight Here" (Opinion). The New York Times. Retrieved May 9, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Minxin Pei, Daniel Kaufmann, Corruption in China: How Bad is It?, November 20, 2007.
  7. ^ a b Lü 2000, p. 236
  8. ^ Lü 2000, p. 235: "It is true that corruption by cadres existed in the Maoist era."
  9. ^ David Barboza, "Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader", The New York Times, 25 October 2012. Retrieved 27 October 2012.
  10. ^ "Xi Jinping Millionaire Relations Reveal Fortunes of Elite". Bloomberg. 29 June 2012. 
  11. ^ Michael Forsythe Bo Xilai Clan Links Included Citigroup Hiring of Elder Son, Bloomberg, 23 April 2012
  12. ^ a b c Anderlini, Jamil (12 March 2010). "Chinese officials’ children in corruption claim", Financial Times
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Michael Johnston, "Corruption in China: Old Ways, New Realities and a Troubled Future", United Nations Public Administration Network, accessed January 29, 2010
  14. ^ Yan 2004, p.8
  15. ^ Lü 2000, p. 252
  16. ^ Lü 2000, p. 254
  17. ^ Hillman, Ben (2010). "Factions and Spoils: Examining Local State Behaviour in China". The China Journal 62: 1–18. 
  18. ^ Ball et al, James (January 21, 2014). "China's princelings storing riches in Caribbean offshore haven".  
  19. ^ Walker Guevara, Marina; Ryle, Gerard; Olesen, Alexa (January 21, 2014). "Leaked Records Reveal Offshore Holdings of China’s Elite".  
  20. ^ Branigan, Tania; Ball, James (23 January 2014). "China blocks foreign news sites that revealed elite's offshore holdings". Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  21. ^ a b Shaun Rein, "How to Deal with Corruption in China",, July 10, 2009
  22. ^ a b c d e f Lü 2000, p.14
  23. ^ Lv 2000, p. 242
  24. ^ Hillman, Ben. Patronage and Power: Local State Networks and Party-state Resilience in Rural China Stanford University Press, 2014.
  25. ^ a b Malcolm Moore, "China corruption trial exposes capital of graft", The Telegraph, October 17, 2009
  26. ^ Dyer, Geoff (18 June 2010). "Housing boom fuels corruption in China"
  27. ^ a b Yan 2004, p. 12
  28. ^ Yan 2004, p. 11
  29. ^ Yan 2004, p. 18
  30. ^ Yan 2004, p. 19
  31. ^
  32. ^ AsiaNews/Agencies, "Corruption in China: Communist official and Supreme Court justice imprisoned,", January 19, 2010
  33. ^ Wang Xiangwei (28 Jun 2010). CHINA BRIEFING: "More officials trying to get away with murder", South China Morning Post
  34. ^ Transparency International, "Chinese National Integrity System Study 2006", December 7, 2006
  35. ^ Quentin Sommerville, Corruption up among China government officials"", BBC, January 9, 2009
  36. ^ a b c d David Barboza, "Politics Permeates Anti-Corruption Drive in China", New York Times, September 3, 2009.
  37. ^ a b Lü 2000, p. 227
  38. ^ Wang, Peng (2013). "The rise of the Red Mafia in China: a case study of organised crime and corruption in Chongqing". Trends in Organized Crime 16 (1): 49–73.  
  39. ^ a b c Kent Ewing (1 March 2007). "Resentment builds against China's wealthy", Asia Times.
  40. ^ A Body, a Scandal and China| By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF April 21, 2012


  • Lü, Xiaobo (2000). Cadres and Corruption. Stanford University Press. 
  • Hillman, Ben (2014). Patronage and Power: Local State Networks and Party-state resilience in Rural China. Stanford University Press. 
  • Yan, Sun (2004). Corruption and Market in Contemporary China. Cornell University Press. 
  • Manion, Melanie (2004). Corruption by Design. Harvard University Press. 
  • Hutton, Will (2007). The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century. Little, Brown. 
  • Wang, Peng (2013). "The rise of the Red Mafia in China: a case study of organised crime and corruption in Chongqing". Trends in Organized Crime 16 (1): 49–73.  



International corruption index
Anti-corruption organizations

See also

See Media of the People's Republic of China for a discussion on the media in China, including topics such as censorship and controls.

The strict controls placed on the media by the Chinese government limit the discovery and reporting of corruption in China. Nevertheless, there have been cases of whistleblowers publicising corruption in China.


Authors who have written about corruption in China include: Liu Binyan, Robert Chua, Wang Yao, Li Zhi, Lü Gengsong, Xi Jinping, Jiang Weiping, Gong Ting.


Prominent individuals implicated in corruption in China include: Wang Shouxin, Yang Bin, Chen Liangyu, Qiu Xiaohua (the nation's chief statistician, who was fired and arrested in connection with a pension-fund scandal),[39] Zheng Xiaoyu,[39] Lai Changxing,[39] Lan Fu, Xiao Zuoxin, Ye Zheyun, Chen Xitong, Tian Fengshan, Zhu Junyi, Zhang Shuguang (a railways official, managed to steal $2.8 billion and move it overseas[40]).



In many such cases, the origins of anti-corruption measures are a mystery. When Chen Liangyu was ousted, analysts said it was because he lost a power struggle with leaders in Beijing. Chen was Shanghai's party secretary and member of the powerful Politburo.[36] In 2010, a re-release of the Communist Party of China 52 code of ethics was published.

Prominent anti-corruption cases in China are often an outgrowth of factional struggles for power in the CCP, as opponents use the "war of corruption" as a weapon against rivals in the Party or corporate world.[36][38] Often, too, the central leadership's goal in cracking down on corruption is to send a message to those who step over some "unknown acceptable level of graft" or too obviously flaunt its benefits. Another reason is to show an angry public that the Party is doing something about the problem.[36]

Political incentives for cracking down

At the same time, local leaders engage in "corruption protectionism," as coined by the head of the Hunan provincial Party Discipline Inspection Commission; apparatchiks thwart corruption investigations against the staff of their own agencies, allowing them to escape punishment. In some cases this has impelled high-ranking officials to form special investigative groups with approval from the central government to avoid local resistance and enforce cooperation.[37] However, since in China vertical and horizontal leadership structures often run at odds with one another, CCP anti-corruption agencies find it hard to investigate graft at the lower levels. The goal of effectively controlling corruption thus remains elusive to the ruling Party.[37]

There are also limits to how far anti-corruption measures will go. For example, when Hu Jintao's son was implicated in a corruption investigation in Namibia, Chinese Internet portals and Party-controlled media were ordered not to report on it.[36]

Thus, while Party disciplinary organs and prosecutorial agencies produce impressive statistics on corruption complaints received from the public, few citizens or observers believe corruption is being systematically addressed.[13]

These efforts are punctuated by an occasional harsh prison term for major offenders, or even executions. But rules and values for business and bureaucratic conduct are in flux, sometimes contradictory, and “deeply politicized.”[13] In many countries systematic anti-corruption measures include independent trade and professional associations, which help limit corruption by promulgating codes of ethics and imposing quick penalties, watchdog groups like NGOs, and a free media. In China, these measures do not exist as a result of the CCP’s means of rule.[13]

In 2009, according to internal Party reports, there were 106,000 officials found guilty of corruption, an increase of 2.5 percent on the previous year. The number of officials caught embezzling more than one million yuan (US$146,000) went up by 19 percent over the year. With no independent oversight like NGOs or free media, corruption has flourished.[35]

While corruption has grown in scope and complexity, anti-corruption policies, on the other hand, have not changed much.[13] Communist-style mass campaigns with anti-corruption slogans, moral exhortations, and prominently displayed miscreants, are still a key part of official policy, much as they were in the 1950s.[13]

Such measures are largely ineffective, however, due to the insufficient enforcement of the relevant laws.[6] Further, because the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection largely operates in secrecy, it is unclear to researchers how allegedly corrupt officials are disciplined and punished. The odds for a corrupt official to end up in prison are less than three percent, making corruption a high-return, low risk activity. This leniency of punishment has been one of the main reasons corruption is such a serious problem in China.[6]

[34] In 2004, the CCP devised strict regulations on officials assuming posts in business and enterprise. The Central Committee for Discipline Inspection and the

The CCP has tried a variety of anti-corruption measures, constructing a variety of laws and agencies in an attempt to stamp out corruption.


Ordinary Chinese are sometimes the victims in official corruption, as in the case of Hewan village in Jiangsu province, where 200 thugs were hired to attack local farmers and force them off their land so Party bosses could build a petrochemical plant. Sun Xiaojun, the party chief of Hewan village, was later arrested. One farmer died.[32] Officials themselves are increasingly victims of official corruption when they target each other out of jealousy, hunger for promotion: there have been high-profile cases of mainland bureaucrats employing hit men or launching acid attacks on rivals. In August 2009, a former director of the Communications Bureau in Hegang, Heilongjiang, who hired hitmen to kill his successor, supposedly because of the latter's ingratitude was given the death penalty.[33]

Long term, corruption has potentially "explosive consequences," including widening income inequalities within cities and between city and countryside, and creating a new, highly visible class of "socialist millionaires," which further fuels resentment from the citizenry.[13]

Corruption in China also harms Western business interests,[31] in particular foreign investors. They risk human rights, environmental, and financial liabilities, at the same time squaring off against rivals who engage in illegal practices to win business.[4]

Nevertheless, the deleterious effects of corruption were documented in detail in Minxin Pei's report. The amount of money stolen through corruption scandals has risen exponentially since the 1980s, and corruption in China is now more concentrated in the sectors the state is heavily involved with.[4] These include infrastructure projects, real estate, government procurement, and financial services. The lack of a competitive political process means these are high-risk areas for fraud, theft, and bribery; Pei estimates the cost of corruption could be up to $86 billion per year.[4]

Others, including local officials, play down the negative impacts of corruption, and local cadres frown on anticorruption efforts for three reasons: a preoccupation with rooting out corruption may lead to cautiousness about new practices; corruption may act as a "lubricant" to "loosen up" the bureaucracy and facilitate commercial exchanges; and thirdly, corruption is a necessary trade-off and inevitable part of the process of reform and opening up.[29] They argue that the destructiveness of corruption in the Chinese context helps transfer or reallocate power from officials, perhaps even enabling the rise of a "new system" and acting as a driving force for reform.[30]

Whether the effects of corruption in China are solely positive or negative is a subject of hot debate. Corruption favors the most connected and unscrupulous, rather than the efficient, and also creates entry barriers in the market for those without such connections. Favors are sought for inefficient subsidies, monopoly benefits, or regulatory oversight, rather than productive activity.[27] Bribes also lead to a misdirection of resources into wasteful or poor-quality projects. Further, since corrupt payments are usually done in secrecy, they are more likely to be used in the same way, driving the proceeds of illegal transactions into foreign bank accounts. Such capital flight costs national growth.[27] Centralised corruption also carries with it the same defects, according to Yan. Rent seeking, for example, is costly to growth because it prevents innovation. Rent seeking activities are also self-sustaining, since such activity makes it seem more attractive compared to productive activity. Corruption is never a better option to honest public policy, Yan Sun argues, and it distorts and retards development.[28]


China's housing boom, and the shift of central government policy towards social housing, are providing officials to siphon off properties for personal gain. The Financial Times cites a number of public scandals involving local officials in 2010: for example, in province, eastern China, a complex of 3,500 apartments designated as social housing in Rizhao, Shandong, was sold to local officials at prices 30-50 per cent below market values. It said in Meixian, Sha’anxi, around 80 per cent of the city’s first social housing development, called Urban Beautiful Scenery, went to local officials. In Xinzhou, Shanxi, a new complex of 1,578 apartments on the local government’s list of designated social housing was almost entirely reserved for local officials, many were 'flipped' for tidy profits even before construction was completed. Jones Lang LaSalle said that transparency about the plans for affordable housing was severely lacking.[26]


Corruption has also taken the form of collusion between CCP officials and criminal gangs. Often hidden inside legitimate businesses, gangs had infiltrated public offices and worked closely with the police.[25] The Telegraph quoted an employee of a state company saying: "In fact, the police stations in Chongqing were actually the centre of the prostitution, gambling and drugs rackets. They would detain gangsters from time to time, and sometimes send them to prison, but the gangsters described it as going away for a holiday. The police and the mafia were buddies." In some cases, innocents were hacked to death and dismembered by roaming gangs whose presence was allowed by regime officials, according to the Telegraph.[25]

The PLA has also become a major economic player, and participant in large- and small-scale corruption at the same time. Inconsistent tax policy, and a politicised and poorly organised banking system, create ample opportunities for favouritism, kickbacks, and "outright theft," according to Michael Johnston, Professor of Political Science at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.[13]

While the state and its bureaucrats are major players in the reform-era economy, new interests and concentrations of economic have been created, without legitimate channels between administrators and entrepreneurs.[13] A lack of regulation and supervision has meant these roles are not clearly demarcated (Lü Xiaobo in his text titles one section "From Apparatchiks to Entrepreneurchiks").[23] Illicit guandao enterprises formed by networks of bureaucrats and entrepreneurs are allowed to grow, operating behind a facade of a government agency or state-owned enterprise, in a realm neither fully public nor private.[13] More recently, Ben Hillman has shown how official corruption is facilitated by intrastate patronage networks. According to Hillman, patronage networks 'grease the wheels' of a dysfunctional bureaucracy while simultaneously extracting spoils for the private benefit of their members. Patronage networks also protect transgressors from intrusion by the Party-state's disciplinary agencies. Hillman's study of patronage networks helps to explain how corruption and economic development have been able to coexist in China.[24]

Corruption in the PRC has developed in two major ways. In the first mode, corruption is in the form of ostensibly legal official expenditure, but is actually wasteful and directed toward private benefits. For example, the increasing number of local governments building massive administrative office buildings that resemble luxurious mansions.[6] At the same time, many corrupt local officials have turned their jurisdictions into virtual “mafia states,” where they collude with criminal elements and unsavory businessmen in illegal activities.[6]

Prebendalism refers to when incumbents of public office get privileges and perquisites through that office.[22] Controlling an office entitles the holder to rents or payments for real or fake activities, and organizations are turned from places of work into "resource banks" where individuals and groups pursue their own interests. Prebendal corruption doesn't necessarily need to be about monetary gain, but may include usurpation of official privilege, backdoor deals, clientelism, cronyism, nepotism.[22]

Rent-seeking refers to all forms of corrupt behaviour by people with monopolistic power. Public officials, through granting a license or monopoly to their clients, get "rents"—additional earnings as a result of a restricted market. Rent-seeking happens when officials grant rents to those in their favor.[22] This is akin to cronyism. In the Chinese case, public officials are both rent-generators and rent-seekers, both making rent opportunities for others and seeking such opportunities to benefit themselves. This may include profiteering by officials or official firms, extortion in the form of illicit impositions, fees, and other charges.[22]

Graft is the most common and refers to bribery, illicit kickbacks, embezzlement, and theft of public funds. Graft involves something of value given to, and accepted by, public officials for dishonest or illegal purposes. It include officials spending fraudulently or using public funds for their own benefit.[22]

Broadly defined, three types of corruption are common in China: graft, rent-seeking, and prebendalism.[22]


Official corruption is among the populace's greatest gripes against the regime. One folk saying vividly illustrates how the public sees the issue, according to Yan Sun: "If the Party executes every official for corruption, it will overdo a little; but if the Party executes every other official for corruption, it cannot go wrong."[3] In contemporary China, bribe taking has become so entrenched that one party secretary in a poor county received repeated death threats for rejecting over 600,000 [3] A rare online opinion poll in 2010 by the People’s Daily found that 91% of respondents believe all rich families in China have political backgrounds.[12]

In a commercial environment, corruption may be prevalent because many employees aren't loyal to their employers, seeing themselves as "free-agent entrepreneurs" first and foremost.[21] They use their employers as a way to make money, both for themselves and for their "guanxi social-circle network." The imperative of maintaining this social circle of benefits is seen as a primary goal for many involved in corruption.[21]

[4]’s Development Research Center asked 4,586 business executives (87 percent in nonstate firms) to rate their local officials in terms of integrity. Almost one-quarter said that their local officials were “bad”; 12 percent said they were “very bad.”State Council Similarly, in late 2006 the [4] Opinion surveys of Party officials and Chinese citizens over recent years set identify corruption as one of the public's top concerns. Every year researchers at the

Public perceptions

According to a January, 2014 investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists more than a dozen family members of China's top political and military leaders are linked to offshore companies based in the British Virgin Islands. The report shows that the brother-in-law of China's current Paramount leader, Xi Jinping and the son-in-law of former premier Wen Jiabao are amongst those making use of offshore financial havens to avoid tax and transfer money overseas.[18] [19] The Golden Shield Project has blocked foreign news sites that have reported on the scandal.[20]

In 2010, in a rare move due to its perceived impact on stability, Li Jinhua, vice-chairman of the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and former long-serving auditor general of the National Audit Office, fired a warning shot in the People's Daily, calling for better legal structures and greater supervision over the business dealings of officials and their children. He said the rapidly growing wealth of Communist officials’ children and family members "is what the public is most dissatisfied about".[12]

Weak state institutions are blamed for worsening corruption in reform-era China. New Left scholars on China criticise the government for apparent "blind faith" in the market, and especially for its erosion of authority and loss of control of local agencies and agents since 1992. Others also see strong links between institutional decline and rising corruption.[14] Corruption in China results from the Party-State's inability to maintain a disciplined and effective administrative corps, according to Lü Xiaobo, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Barnard College. The Chinese reform-era state has also been an enabling factor, since state agencies have been granted regulatory power without institutional constraints, allowing them to tap into new opportunities to seek profits from the rapid growth in businesses and the economy. This takes place at both the departmental and individual level.[15] Corruption here is part of the dilemma faced by any reforming socialist state, where the state needs to play an active role in creating and regulating markets, while at the same time its own intervention places extra burdens on administrative budgets. Instead of being able to reduce the size of its bureaucratic machinery (and therefore opportunities for corruption), it is instead pressed to expand further. Officials then cash in on the regulatory power by "seeking rents."[16][17]

Both structural and non-structural corruption has been prevalent in China. Non-structural corruption exists around the world, and refers to all activities that can be clearly defined as "illegal" or "criminal," mainly including different forms of graft: embezzlement, extortion, bribery etc. Structural corruption arises from particular economic and political structures; this form is difficult to root out without a change of the broader system.[7]

The politically unchallenged regime in China creates opportunities for cadres to exploit and control the rapid growth of economic opportunities; and while incentives to corruption grow, effective countervailing forces are absent.[13]

Emergence of the private sector inside the state economy in post-Mao China has tempted CCP members to misuse their power in government posts; the powerful economic levers in the hands of the elite has propelled the sons of some party officials to the most profitable positions. For this, the CCP has been called the "princelings' party" (taizidang, 太子党), a reference to familiar patterns of corruption in some periods of Imperial China. The relatives of several prominent political leaders are reported to have generated large personal wealth in business, including relatives of former Premier Wen Jiabao,[9] Current CCP general secretary Xi Jinping,[10] and former Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai.[11] Attacking corruption in the Party was one of the forces behind the Tiananmen protests of 1989.[12]

[8] reign also existed, however.Mao's were much criticized for making corruption the price of economic development. Corruption during reforms of Deng Xiaoping In the PRC the [7]

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