All signs are showing that China’s new Politburo led by Xi Jinping is pretty serious about fighting corruption – they see corruption as something that could lead to the collapse of the Party and the fall of the state. Since the power handover at the 18th National Party Congress, one senior-level official (Liu Chencheng, deputy Party Secretary of Sichuan province) and several lower-level officials have been either investigated or dismissed due to corruption or misconduct. But more noteworthy than the government’s seeming determination to fight corruption is that most recently cases were first exposed by netizens. Investigations started only after these online exposé received considerable public attention. All of sudden, the Chinese Internet is full of inside stories and sex tapes/pictures. While many are cheering for the power of the Web, and of the people, others call for caution, comparing this surging online anti-corruption war to the Culture Revolution.
Online anti-corruption is not sustainable
The biggest concern comes from online anti-corruption’s dependence on the people, instead of an established anti-corruption system. To most of those who have lived through the Culture Revolution and witnessed how Mao has mobilized “a people’s war” to fight the people, the power of the people doesn’t always equal to a positive thing. Many have sensed something in online anti-corruption that is very similar to China’s past Red movements – there is no right or wrong, no rumor or truth, only exposé. 许小年, a financial professor and a Weibo celebrity, did a comparison: “In 1958, the people were mobilized and there was the Great Leap Forward. In 1968, the people were mobilized and there wwa the Culture Revolution. In 2012, Bo Xilao mobilized the people in Chongqing and there was “singing red, fighting black.” In 2012, netizens were mobilized and there was anti-corruption war? Why it’s always the same method?”
赵楚 voiced the limitations of online anti-corruption: “I don’t particularly like online anti-corruption because I’ve seen movements bigger than this. Movements will not stop corruption. Rule of law, the existence of opposition parties and freedom of speech will. While those who fabricate rumors to defame officials need to be subject to punishments, people should be allowed to speak out when they have something to say.” He went on with more doubts over the spread of online anti-corruption: “The current online anti-corruption movement is but to a power re-balance. Online anti-corruption is unnatural from the beginning. It exists only because the people have nowhere else to seek justice and the society lacks effective supervision. Now online anti-corruption acts just like marijuana, used by ordinary people for self-deception. It’s a tool controlled by those in power.”
This kind of view that the current anti-corruption is an act of stealing from the thieves rather than a determination based on good will is not uncommon to see. Netizen 刘二毛的三姨太 commented: “Movement-like anti-corruption is not war against corruption. It’s power struggle among the corrupt in order to re-divide their interests.”
And such views are not entirely groundless. For example, the widely-circulated sex tape that has brought down Lei Zhengfu, an official in Chongqing, was originally used as blackmail by a real estate company that sent trained mistresses to officials as bribes. The tape was given to a journalist 5 years later after Lei failed to favor the company in regulatory decisions. In other news, a man called Qi Hong told that he once uninstalled 40 bugs in a week from cars, offices and homes of different Shanxi officials. It was reported that there was a culture of using “spy devices” among Shanxi officials who would hesitate no time in using others’ secrets to secure their own positions.
To make these voices more alarming is netizens’ reaction to such criticisms of online anti-corruption. Netizen 火瑞火 is one of the supporters of online anti-corruption: “Corruption is a problem that could potentially lead to the fall of the state. Even if it’s Anti-corruption Culture Revolution, we still need to press on.” In the eyes of 幸武1, anti-corruption should exactly be done like a movement: “The only way this anti-corruption war can win is to mobilize the people, and to fight a people’s war against the corrupt. Weibo is the best weapon.” 八公山下一散人 shared similar views: “Even if [online anti-corruption] is truly another Culture Revolution, there is nothing bad about it. Those corrupt officials deserve to be persecuted in Culture Revolution style.”
Something is better than nothing
While online anti-corruption may not be a sustainable long-term solution to China’s problems, in the lack of an effective formal corruption-fighting system, it’s probably the best that the ordinary people have currently. 老徐时评, a popular liberal intellectual, saw the bright side of online anti-corruption: “The power of the Web is raging like fire in the war against corruption. Some people and a few media compared such grass-root anti-corruption with Culture Revolution. For sure, anti-corruption cannot depend solely on the Internet. But unless new anti-corruption laws and systems are put into effect, no one can deny the importance of the Web in anti-corruption… Please don’t chill people’s enthusiasm of online anti-corruption.” 北京厨子, a popular Weibo celebrity known for witty comments on current events, also saw online anti-corruption as better than nothing: “Open war against corruption is better than secret fights backstage. Although it’s not a big progress per se, it’s worth encouraging…Large scale of online anti-corruption raises the bar for doing evil.”
Even China’s mouthpiece media fail to reach an agreement on how to make sense of online anti-corruption. China Youth Daily called for caution: “The current wave of online anti-corruption is a turning point of the internet development in China. Grass-root anti-corruption needs to be included in formal processes and backed up by a well-articulated system. Otherwise, online anti-corruption will not be sustainable. Online anti-corruption is not a long-term solution. Without an institutionalized process, it will become another Culture Revolution or online gang-busting movement (Gang-busting movements are a specialty of Bo Xilai, China’s disgraced politician)”
In contrast, Global Times, the most pro-government media voice of all in China, seemed to side with online anti-corruption: “Recent anti-corruption enforcements are fast and effective. The Party Discipline Commission interacts with netizens in almost real time. The war against corruption has never seen such scale, online or offline. This is utterly different from past movements or revolutions.”
But at the end of the day, no matter where China’s online anti-corruption is heading, the simple fact that a country needs to depend on the Internet to fight corruption is a big misfortune in itself, for both its government and its people.