Why China’s anti-graft war may eventually fail

Alia | July 2nd, 2014 - 8:17 pm

One issue with having thousands of years of history is that the people have read it all in history books, and thus it takes much more for the government to earn back people’s trust. A situation Beijing is in right now.

Since China’s current leadership took power in late 2012 and launched a sweeping campaign against corruption, Beijing has shown its determination to take down both powerful “tigers” and lowly “flies.”  In the first half of 2014 alone, a total of 842 government officials have been sacked, including 21 high-ranking ones, such as vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the former vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Many people hailed Beijing’s “iron fist” against graft. Others, however, are not so optimistic: “We are just repeating feudal history.”

Corruption isn’t a new problem to China. Every dynasty in China’s history has had their own wars against graft, but those campaigns, however effective in the beginning, never really rooted out prevalent corruption.


State censors (监察御史) have been part of China’s government system ever since the Qin Dynasty, the country’s first imperial dynasty. These censors had nothing to do with information filtering, but were government organs that supervise and control the entire officialdom.

Officials work as censors were allowed to indicate corrupt or illegal practices of other officials or to investigate officials charged of misdoings. Sounds familiar? That’s exactly the job of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party in today’s China.

The biggest problem of such a system of officialdom censors is that its effectiveness almost solely depends on the quality of censor officials – the best scenario is a groups of honesty and fearless censor officials hunting down a few “tigers”, the more likely scenario is these censor officials gradually becoming “tigers” themselves and serving as protection for “flies.”

Unfortunately, the later scenario is what’s most commonly observed throughout China’s history, and is also what’s most likely to happen today. In 2014 alone, 4 officials at the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection have been sacked due to corruption, including former deputy Secretary General and Chief of Staff.

“The government is replacing ‘tigers’ with ‘future tigers’. It’s a thousand-year-old trick.” One netizen sarcastically commented.  

As an old Chinese saying goes: a new chief brings in new aides. Many people believe that the current sweeping anti-graft campaign will eventually hit a dead end. “What’s the use of taking down a few ‘tigers’ while everybody lives in a system that promotes corruption?” One netizen asked bitterly.

The only solution, as many Chinese netizens pointed out, is political system reform. “The best system is one that prevents corruption from the very beginning, not one that tightens control over already-happened corruption cases.” One netizen commented. “Rule of men, no matter how effective, will never work better than rule of law.” Another netizen commented.

“Without reforming the political system, all anti-graft campaigns are but a redistribution of power.” One netizen pointed out what most Chinese fear the most.


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7 Responses to “Why China’s anti-graft war may eventually fail”

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  2. James says:

    Totally agree with all the points talked about in this article.
    This writer did a really good work creating it.

  3. [...] breakthroughs may lie ahead, Offbeat China argues that a disciplinary inquisition is a fundamentally flawed and limited approach. In March, Wang Qishan announced the formation of a new internal affairs branch to monitor the rest [...]

  4. [...] China’s war on bribery will probably fail. Unless the political system is reformed, “all anti-graft campaigns are but a redistribution of power.” [...]

  5. chinochano says:

    I hate apocalyptic news… Please, tell us the present or the past, not how bad you think the future is gonna be.

    • Ixi says:

      On a scale of Qin Shihuang to Puyi – Zhang Juzheng, Emperor Wanli’s Regent (an official so corrupt and so adept at hiding his corruption that most of history seems to forget that he was corrupt)

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