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Through Blackmail and Extortion, Chinese Hold Officials in Line


Sometimes the pictures are real, and other times creative criminals fake them using Photoshop. True or not, they can quickly bring down a Chinese bureaucrat’s career. Dan Levin and Amy Qin report for the New York Times:

Often the image captures a well-fed, middle-aged bureaucrat engaged in a sordid encounter with a woman who is not his wife. Or it could be a fully clothed official but one wearing an expensive timepiece that his government salary could never afford.

Then comes the demand: Pay up, or become the next online viral sensation.”…

Here in Shuangfeng, a rural county in Hunan Province, the authorities have arrested dozens of blackmailers, some of whom have used officials’ actual transgressions to demand payments and some of whom have simply used electronic manipulation to make misdeeds up.

The success of this kind of blackmail stems from the very real outrage that breaks out in China when Party officials are caught sleeping around, making ostentatious displays of wealth, or engaging in nefarious or blatantly corrupt activities. Yesterday, for example, a former deputy secretary general of Yongcheng city was executed for raping a number of young women and girls. After the case became known last year, Chinese web users erupted in fury, and public outrage almost certainly contributed to the decision to sentence the official to death.

More and more regularly, Chinese citizens are holding officials in line with the threat of public airing of their misdeeds, true or not. It’s a sign that they care deeply about their leaders’ honesty and character. The authorities have been forced to respond: immediately after he entered office, Xi Jinping instituted a frugality requirement for Party officials, commonly referred to as “four dishes and a soup.” Levin and Qin report, “More than 2,000 officials have been investigated and punished for violations from the campaign’s launch at the end of 2012 through the end of April, according to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, China’s top anticorruption agency.”

Yesterday Xi Jinping took things a step further, announcing a “year-long campaign” to conduct “a thorough clean-up” of the Communist Party that will aim to disrupt what Xinhua calls “undesirable work styles such as formalism, bureaucracy, laxity and extravagance.”

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  • Nick Bidler

    In America and elsewhere, it is better to assume any appearance of a lack of corruption in government merely means no-one has looked in the right closet.

  • Jim__L

    I seem to remember from my college courses on Chinese history that rooting out corruption among bureaucrats is very much in keeping with traditional Chinese values.

    Also, the gradual corruption of that bureaucracy is thought to play a major role in a government losing “the Mandate of Heaven” — its legitimacy — when the corruption gets too severe.

    While this kind of popular discontent (and responsiveness to it) could be a sign of democratizing tendencies, it could alternatively be an expression of centuries-old Chinese ideals.

    It would be interesting if we could use these ideals to help democratize China by convincing them that democracy (and transparency, etc) is the best means for rooting out this corruption.

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