Corruption in China

by fulltimestudent 6 Replies latest social current

  • fulltimestudent

    Consider this scenario:

    A young lawyer is elected mayor of the city and promises to rid it of the corruption it's famous for. The problem is that most of the corruption he's vowed to eliminate is caused by the crooked political machine that helped elect him.

    When you read that description, where do you think the story is located?

    If you cannot guess, I'll make the answer simple (it's not really important to the topic). That was a summary of the screenplay for a 1933 film in the USA. ( web-link: ). Machine politics in the USA of that era, had the reputation of being notoriously corrupt. I use the film to illustrate my contention that the root cause of corruption is human venality.

    A problem in discussing this subject is to be able to definite corruption. Modern western thinking states that paying a bribe is a corrupt act. OK, consider this. Today, western States set fees for services provided by the State on what is called the 'user pays,'principle. But what if, in a less sophisticated state, the issuing authority is an unpaid political appointee, authorised by the primary State to collect fees that provide for his livelihood (or, self enrichment) ? Where is the line at which the user-pays principle ends and corruption starts? In that situation does the word 'corruption' have any meaning at all?

    I don't want to get lost in an endless discussion concerning what is coruuption. My goal in this thread is to attempt to provide an overview of what is happening in China today. It is however neccessary to provide background. So the first few posts will attempt to provide such an overview

  • AnneB

    Corruption is a state of mind.

  • glenster


    Based on my understanding of global politics, the USA is a lighter orange.

  • fulltimestudent

    The concept of corruption in Imperial times.

    The political structure of China in most dynasties was of an all powerful Emperor, who was advised by an extensive well-educated bureacracy who also administered the law and implemented Imperial decrees. To gain a place in that bureaucracy candidates had to study very hard and sit for a public examination. As a system, it likely had some important advantages. The examinations were relatively open. If influential people in a certain district heard of a bright young man, they may well pay for his education with the goal of being able to use his influence if he was succesful. (you can see where that could go).

    The Imperial Examination

    The origins of the exam system lie in the Han period, but the early scholarly examinations were consolidated during the Sui period, and began to be truly effective under the Tang Dynasty. Between the Tang period and the late Qing, the civil service examinations dropped out of use for short periods and underwent occasional reform. But the content remained remarkably constant. The core texts consisted of the Four Books and the Five Classics, works attributed to Confucius and certain of his disciples, along with a number of approved commentaries.

    Until the Guanxu Reforms of 1898, the notorious eight-legged essay, a rigid traditional format, was the mainstay of the exam papers. Rote learning of the Confucian classics was fundamental to success in the exams, and the scholar who obtained the highest degree, the jinshi, would have his memory trained to a tremendous degree. Texts of a total of over 400,000 characters had to be thoroughly memorised if a candidate was to have any hope of progressing to a civil service position, and even at the district level, the pass rate was only 1 or 2%.

    Joining the Imperial Civil Service

    To obtain a civil service post, a candidate had to pass through several stages, starting with preliminary local exams, and progressing, if successful, through to district, provincial and palace examinations. Exams were held every three years. The district degree was the shengyuan, which entailed exemption from both corporal punishment and the corvee labour dues, the right to wear a scholar's robes, and a small state salary. Essentially, a successful candidate became a member of the gentry.

    To obtain a civil service position, a scholar generally required the juren provincial degree, which would take would take years of study, and even a candidate could not reasonably expect to do so before he was thirty. Many candidates who were eventually successful did not achieve office until they had reached a venerable age. The jinshi degrees were prospects for only a very few exceptional scholars. For the very highest ministerial posts, the best examination essays were selected by the Emperor himself.

    A Meritocratic Aristocracy

    Aristocracy-by-examination had far-reaching consequences. A high degree of national stability was ensured despite changes of emperor and dynasty because the civil service, fuelled by the exam system, could continue independently of the imperial regime. Even China's foreign conquerors, the Mongols and the Manchu, realised the benefits of the examination system. Despite denigrating Han Chinese scholars as the “Stinking Ninth” in their social ranking, the Mongols of the Yuan Dynasty retained the system. The Manchu tribesmen who captured Beijing in 1644 to found the Qing Dynasty restored the civil service examinations only two years later, and although they excluded Han Chinese from the highest echelons of the Civil Service, they clearly recognised the adhesive value of the exams in binding the Han intelligentsia to the Qing regime.

    Most importantly, the civil examinations provided a conduit for the aspirations of able men from almost any social stratum. While there are a few famous literary instances of women dressing up as men to take the exams, in practice, women were entirely excluded from the system. But amongst men, the exams were generally open to all, with the exception of a few classes such as actors and slaves.

    Undoubtedly, success in the examinations was easier for the well-off. In the late Qing period in particular, corruption was widespread; examiners could be bribed, and early stages of the exam process could be skipped for a fee. Tutors, books and brushes all cost money, so poor candidates were at a disadvantage even during periods when bribery was frowned upon. Despite this, many poor scholars did succeed in their ambitions. During the Qing period, over a third of jinshi degree holders came from families with little or no educational background. Nor was the system biased towards the inhabitants of the capital. Degrees were awarded to scholars from throughout China; indeed the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang boasted the greatest number of jinshi graduates.

    From a 2002 essay by Justin Crozier, published in China in Focus magazine. (web-link: )

    The Emperor often became a figure-head in this system, in which case the bureaucracy just kept on doing what it was supposed to - run the country.

    Of course, some of their tasks were more esoteric, as in this painting of scholars in the Northern Qi dynasty collating classic texts.

    The above painting is held today in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

    Sinologist John K. Fairbank, in his book, China: A New History (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006) describes the scene,

    ... the four scholars shown in this detail [the left-hand side of this painting above shown in his book] are at play as well as at work. Although the two seated on the far side of the large wooden platform have their brushes and papers in hand, the foreground pair appear to be smiling and teasing each other with pushing and pulling, while a small boy removes shoes on the right. Two maid-servants have set out cups and heaping dishes and food, but one dish has been knocked over by the playful pair. On the left edge of the platform are still more diversions—a musical instrument, the qin (zither), and equipment for competing at throwing arrows into a vase.

    Some may say, were Public Servants ever different? But that would be unfair to many clever men who worked hard in the assigned posts.

    The Northern Qi dynasty ruled part of north China for about 25 years in the 6th century CE. History tells us that the State was plagued by corrupt officials.

  • villagegirl

    To fully understand the underlying belief system

    that runs China, read the iChing and the 36 Strategies.

    We assume all cultures are of the ten commandment sort.

    They are not.

  • RubaDub

    The effects are also felt here in the USA.

    The owner of the local Chinese take-out place I go to is probably involved too. Corruption is at all levels.

    I used to get 8 or 9 wontons when I ordered a quart of soup. Now it is 6 or on a good day 7.

    Once they get the taste of the benefits of corruption, it becomes a disease.

    Rub a Dub

  • fulltimestudent

    As a footnote to the Imperial Examinations, its interesting to note that Hong XiuQuan, son of a poor farmer, sat for the Imperial examination four times and did not pass. He became a Christian and decided that the Christian God wanted him to rid China of demon Gods.

    He preached a mixture of communal utopianism, evangelism, and Christianity. While proclaiming sexual equality, the sect segregated men from women and encouraged all its followers to pay their assets into a communal treasury. [6] By the end of the 1840s, Hong had a sizeable following which he called the God Worshippers (拜上帝會), but local officials still attempted to suppress his religious movement after his move to Guangxi. [4]

    Hong stayed at the Yuan Floral Hall (袁氏花廳) in Shiling, Guangzhou (c. 1845–1847) where he studied, preached, developed his revolutionary theory and wrote many of his famous works. [7]

    In 1847 Hong studied with the American Southern Baptist missionary, Reverend Issachar Jacox Roberts, for two months in Guangzhou, during which time he gained most of his knowledge of Christianity. [4] He formally studied the Old Testament. After Hong asked Roberts for aid in maintaining his sect, Roberts (wary of people converting to Christianity for economic aid) refused to baptise him. [8]

    Most of Hong Xiuquan's knowledge of the scriptures came from the books known as "Good Words to Admonish the Age" by the Chinese preacher Liang Fa as well as a localized Bible translated into Chinese. Many Western missionaries grew jealous of Hong and his local ministry. These missionaries were fond of spreading rumors about him, one such rumor being that he had not been baptized (Hong and his cousin were in fact both baptized according to the way prescribed in the pamphlet "Good words to admonish the age"). [9]


    By 1850 Hong had between 10,000 and 30,000 followers. The authorities were alarmed at the growing size of the sect and ordered them to disperse. A local force was sent to attack them when they refused, but the imperial troops were routed and a deputy magistrate killed. A full-scale attack was launched by government forces in the first month of 1851, in what came to be known as the Jintian Uprising , named after the town of Jintian (present-day Guiping , Guangxi ) where the sect was based. Hong's followers emerged victorious and beheaded the Manchu commander of the government army. Hong declared the founding of the "Heavenly Kingdom of Transcendent Peace" on 11 January 1851.


    However, in March 1853, Hong's forces managed to take Nanjing and turned it into the capital of their movement.

    After establishing his capital at Nanjing Hong implemented an ambitious programme of reforms. He created an elaborate civil bureaucracy, reformed the calendar used in his kingdom, outlawed opium use, and introduced a number of reforms designed to make women more socially equal to men. [2] Hong ruled by making frequent proclamations from his Heavenly Palace, demanding strict compliance with various moral and religious rules. Most trade was suppressed and property socialized. Polygamy was forbidden and men and women were separated, although Hong and other leaders maintained groups of concubines.

    From a DEViant Art comic

    Hong Xiuquan's throne on exhibition.

    Hong's attempt to create a "Christian China" almost succeeded. However, he made a strategic error in 1860 when his forces attacked Shanghai, then governed by Christian Europeans who had their own designs on China.

    Now Christian Europeans, with an army eventually under the command of the devout Christian, General Charles Gordon. In 1864, the old story of Christian killing Christian was repeated and the Taiping, the heavenly kingdom of peace came to its end.

    Up to 50 million people may have died in this rebellion that attempted to change the course of Chinese History.

    I have a little booklet published by the CPC praising the Taiping as an example of a peasant army fighting entrenched corruption and injustice

    (Sorry for the off-topic diversion, but the Taiping rebellion is a fascinating topic)

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