Anti-Corruption is the most popular topic now in China. There is an anti-corruption article published in the well-known Yanhuang Chunqiu magazine in China which briefly discussed how corrupted the United States was long ago. However, its good governance stopped corruption without having to execute many corrupted officials. Finally the USA came to today’s relatively clean politics, that seems to be calm without bumpy waves. The description in this article of the clean politics in the USA is basically correct. The important reasons limiting that corruption were also pretty much correct. In particular, this article emphasizes the role of the independent media, which can be said to be the consensus now shared among elites inside China. In recent years, many people have really put their hopes on media exposure, and everyone has continued their encouragement to the media to do so.
Yet why doesn’t the Chinese media seem to so effective? The Internet media in China now certainly is not like the American newspapers of two hundred years ago. Even though there is Internet blockage by the hundreds of thousands of Internet police in China, the leaked information is absolutely more than the USA had two hundred years ago. But the effect in China seems not what the United States had.
What is responsible for this difference? Is it because of the poor quality and ignorance of the Chinese people? The education level of the Americans two hundred years ago was absolutely lower than that of the current Chinese people. Then a further assumption would be due to an inferior nature of the Asian race according to the theory of “Asian values”? This assumption is not only unacceptable to the Chinese people; even the vast majority of Americans disagree with it.
Then what is the reason? Now the Chinese people are talking the most about a “selective anti-corruption”. That is, the use of anti-corruption as a way to attack political opponents, yet without any binding and deterrent for political allies. China now is still like China in ancient times, when anti-corruption would not bring a clean society for very long. Not only is there no effectiveness with the anti-corruption measures, it even could be more corrupt after anti-corruption.
Why was the U.S. able to simply restrain corruption, yet China cannot? Like all Chinese elites, the author of that article did not dare to point out the root cause. In that article, it described in great detail the process whereby the United States developed anti-corruption laws, so when the laws were established they seemed to automatically at work. It just ignored the most important part, as to whether and how the law can be implemented.
Was not ancient China not corruptive? At that time, the laws in China were even more detailed and tight than in the USA. The executions to punish corruption were endless. But was that useful? No. In ancient China, executions due to corruption were carried out against high-ranking officials even including the prime ministers. But nowadays the punishments are not carried out on the standing members of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, as well as its veterans. This current status in China could not even be compared to ancient China, not to mention be compared with the USA. Recently, we heard that several senior veterans of the Communist Party already received certificates to avoid the punishment of corruption, and more waivers of the death penalty are coming out as well. I had to laugh after I heard this news – are the Chinese people so gullible?
Why were and are the anti-corruption measures in ancient China and modern China ineffective, yet effective in the United States? Why do not the media in China dare to speak up, and even when they do why are they ineffective, when the American media has become a powerful aide of anti-corruption? What is the difference between China and the United States? The biggest difference is that China’s bureaucrats and politicians are the same group. China has no opposition and no opposition party, and thus has no democratic system.
Nominally there are several Chinese political parties which serve as decorative vases to the Communist Party, or more politely are in partnership with the Communist Party. Do any of them dare to expose corrupt officials? They have done even less than the people within the Communist Party. Even if they did successfully expose someone, it would still be useless – it would be irrelevant because the replacement for the corrupted official will still be a member of the Communist Party. There is no motivation to expose, simply due to the certain revenge by the exposed person’s accomplices afterwards.
So we see that the minority who adhere to the principle of the law will have to accept retaliation, while most of the elite are eloquent, evasive, and put their messages in the cover of cloud and fog. The average Chinese are unable to see everything clearly, besides having the feeling of being cheated. After too much cheating and crying wolf, the Chinese people do not believe even when the real wolves are here. When I see the photos of (the Communist leader in charge of the current anti-corruption) Wang Qishan (emphasizing anti-corruption) in exhaustion, I can not help but to laugh – the Chinese people do not believe you anyway, so why are you so serious in playing out this drama that you have staged?
I do not think the anti-corruption effort by Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan is necessarily phoney. Ancient emperors in China were also genuinely anti-corruption. Just like the current Communist regime knows, these emperors knew that the regime would meet its end if the corruption continued. In ancient times, the design of the anti-corruption agencies used extremely tight and needless repetition. Now the anti-corruption agency of the Communist regime has also learned from the foreign countries and combined with good Chinese practices. Yet why it is not working?
Even Hu Yaobang (the Communist leader in the 1980’s) felt strange about this: Why do good things from abroad become effectiveless and do not work right when they are introduced to China? So this conundrum leads me to think of the ancient story of envoy Yan Zi’s illustration when he visited the country of Chu: the delicious Mandarin oranges grown south of the Huai River have inedible and bitter fruits when the trees are planted north of the Huai River. When the conditions are different, of course the performance is different. The reason that the American system is ineffective when it was copied in China, is because the basic conditions are different, so of course the taste changed.
What condition is different then? The difference is the democratic and multi-political party system in America and its fair legal system that is protected under constitutional law. In comparison, it is essentially different from the Chinese one-party authoritarian system that is lawless and self-monitoring with officials protecting each other. Without a multi-party system of basic checks and balances, any application of individual policies naturally changed. It is like putting a donkey’s lips on a horse mouth – to put it nicely, we call it funny.
With true opposition parties, it would not be the same. When corrupt or incompetent officials are caught, they could be ousted. The motivation to take turns for the governing power is so strong, that the opposition will be seriously supervising it. With serious and strong pressure from the opposition and the opposition parties, revenge could not easily be done against those who expose corruptions or elite who make non-preferred remarks. Judges could make fair rulings without following directives or consultations of someone. Thus we would get the delicious mandarin oranges in the south of Huai River.
Of course, democracy is not perfect. But where there is no democracy at all, it for sure will not be right. Not just this anti-corruption issue, but also the variety of major and persistent problems in China now are all related to this basic system of one-party dictatorship. Following these problems up, we will all learn this one-party dictatorship system is the root cause. In this respect, the Chinese inside China have a clear insight, thus they are discussing Lord Acton’s “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Unfortunately, they do not really have the freedom of speech.
Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan want to win the support of the people through anti-corruption, then move forward. They have made things upside down. If they truly want to start a political reform from the anti-corruption, they must get the support of the people. Without it, it is impossible to resist the counter-attack of the bureaucratic capitalists. Unable to resist the counter-attack of the bureaucratic capitalists, how could they achieve the anti-corruption and win the support of the people? Xi Jinping is being caught in a paradox.
Solutions to this paradox lie in the establishment of a democratic system. The establishment of a democratic system can only be done through revolution. I wish the failure of Xi Jinping’s reforms.