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On corruption with "Chinese Characteristics"
Hu Ping
9/30/2002



"Appeal to a Higher Level is Illegal !"

Corruption and the Economy

Nowadays when people talk about corruption, they usually refer specifically to economic phenomena. For example, when people talk about judicature corruption, they are probably thinking about perverting justice for a bribe; that is, law-enforcement personnel are found guilty of lawbreaking activities in seeking economic benefits. Since people are accustomed to linking corruption with the economy, it has become all too easy for them to mistake that these phenomena mainly appeared only after the introduction of China's economic reforms and opening, as if there were no or very little corruption during Mao Zedong's time.

In fact, corruption is not limited to economic phenomena. Acton said: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The corruption mentioned here also includes politics. Say that one just refers to indulging in dissipation or embezzlement and taking bribes, then the extent of corruption during Mao's time was limited. However, if one just refers to persecuting dissidents and murdering people in cold blood, the corruption during Mao's time may have been the worst in the world.

Severe and Abominable

The corruption in today’s Chinese economy displays unprecedented severity as described in He Qinglian's book "China's Trap.” From appearances, it looks as if the Chinese Communist authorities also take corruption rather seriously; they have issued repeated injunctions to curb it. But common sense tells us that it is just not possible for the authorities’ anti-corruption campaign to achieve the desired effect given that there is minimum separation of power under the current one party despotic system.

Even in the few cases of serious corruption that
have been uncovered, the underlying power struggles overpower the anti-corruption factor. In fact, nowadays legitimate ideology has completely fallen through. The highest authorities have become dependent on catering to officials at different levels to expropriate the flesh and blood of the people or to commit corruption, so as to gain their so-called loyalty to their own political power. As stated in the novel Heaven's Anger, "the corruption makes our political power more consolidated."

The Confusion

Although corruption in China is illustrious, many people still do not understand it clearly, and some will even speak in defense of it. Many people, including many scholars who expose and criticize the corruption, have long been accustomed to equating China’s current corruption with that from history or other societies. Thus, they make inappropriate analogies, which have diluted the truly abominable nature of China’s corruption.

For example, some people liken today’s China to the primary stage of capitalism; the appropriation of public property by those with prerogative to the primitive accumulation of capitalism as well as those with prerogative carving up state-owned land to the enclosure movement. There are even some people who simply promote such a theory as "corruption is good for economic reform" and "corruption is the necessary price paid by economic reform."

One must understand that China's economic corruption has its characteristics. First, it occurred during the transition from the Communist concept of sharing all property to privatization. This fundamentally differs from the situations in other countries and at other times. For example, the carving up of state-owned land by those with prerogative in today’s China fundamentally differs from Britain’s historic enclosure movement. The latter, as Professor Qin Hui points out, was in reality a movement of freely renting out land to tenants. Originally, the landlords rented land to farmers to plant crops. Later, the textile industry flourished and brought a sharp increase in the price of wool. Sheep farmers were willing to pay more for land, and so the landlords rented their land to those sheep farmers. Consequently, the original farmer tenants lost their livelihood in the countryside, and had to become the flow of rural people flooding into the cities in search of jobs. However, the situation in China today is that those with prerogative exercise the right to use state-owned land to seek sudden huge profits without any surveillance from the public. This is a similar dilemma to when a landlord's steward casts aside the landlord, and arbitrarily sells and transfers the landlord's land to make profits of his own. In the end this causes severe damage to the landlord's benefit or even turn the landlord into a poor wretch. How can these two matters be mentioned in the same breath?

As everyone knows, China's economic reform changes public property into private property. Those in power appropriate the public property under the protection of the despotic system, and take away the property belonging to the collective and the people by force and trickery to make individual profit. From this perspective, it is quite similar to the economic reform during the late period of tsarist Russia, but there are still differences in principle. After all, public property in the countryside communes during the period of tsarist Russia was handed down for generations, and it had already been called "public." The public property in China today is different. It was clearly a result of the Communist Party flaunting the Communist Revolution banner and using bloody violence to eliminate private property. If it were to return to the private property system, it would be right only if these things are returned to their original owners. Or, the authorities should bow and apologize, and then fairly distribute the public property under the surveillance of the democratic mechanism. The Chinese Communist Party first confiscated private property and turned it into public property through despotic methods, and then appropriated the public property relying on the protection of the despotic system. Both of these evil deeds that oppose one another have been done by the same party. Isn't this kind of corruption one hundred times worse even than that of Indonesia under Suharto's ruling?

It is true that, from the surface, China's economic reform looks as if it has achieved noticeable economic growth. Consequently, many theories defending the phenomena of corruption have emerged. But surely we can never forget that the things behind the economic growth are totally against reason and nature; they are unjust. When people are still fearful of the ruling despot, and still do not have the right to speak, they have no choice but to endure, and to be satisfied with getting a few leftovers from the luxury banquet of those with power and influence. But what will happen once they win the democratic right? Mr. Wang Lixiong warned that the people would propose the just demand to "expropriate those who expropriated (people)." Maybe then if things do not go smoothly, an Economic Great Cultural Revolution would break out.

This is in no way about saying things just to scare people.

*Hu Ping is Editor-in-Chief at "Beijing Spring" magazine.

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