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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 21:12 GMT
China's ill-gotten gains
The Yuanhua International Plaza which belonged to smuggling kingpin Lai Changxing
A glitzy hotel complex may have murky origins
As a new generation of leaders prepares to take power in China, the BBC's Francis Markus reports on the high- and low-level corruption which some analysts see as an inevitable result of one-party rule.

One of the most popular programmes among television viewers in Shanghai lately has been a series called Fuhua Bei Hou - Behind the Luxury Lifestyle.

It is about the corrupt links between a wealthy businessman and customs officials.

One senior customs officer turns a blind eye to the businessman's lucrative car smuggling operation and, as the story develops, the son of his superior becomes involved in the racket himself.

Anti-corruption poster
The Party is publicising its anti-graft efforts
It happens in an imaginary province. But few Chinese would need to wrack their brains too hard for the inspiration behind the plot - a massive smuggling scandal that rocked the affluent south-eastern province of Fujian in the 1990s.

It goes without saying that justice is seen to be done - one of the protagonists is jailed, another meets an untimely death. There are also clear limits on how far up the official ladder the corruption can be shown to extend.

"Probably the level of city mayors is the limit," says one Communist Party member in his early 30s who is a fan of the series.

Daily lives affected

One of China's most respected market research organisations, in a poll quoted by the official media, found that "clean government" was the issue of most serious concern to the people they sampled in 1999, whereas last year the ranking given to the issue had dropped to sixth.

But if there is an easing of public worries about corruption and nepotism, it is hardly reflected in people's comments.

In the Chinese media too, there seems to be a steady flow of newspaper and magazine articles detailing the ways that corruption and nepotism affect people's daily lives.


Authorities... have been trying to stamp out the practice of hospital doctors accepting cash gifts from patients in return for more attentive treatment

Take education: A teacher in one prestigious Shanghai middle school says that although student recruitment from other provinces is theoretically carried out according to merit, at least a proportion of children win places in the school through parental connections and influence.

"Corruption in the world of Chinese higher education is like a shocking Pandora's box," says a recent story in the popular monthly magazine, Duzhe - The Reader.

It goes on to paint a picture of nepotism inside research departments and plagiarism that is so rampant in certain fields, that there is a serious shortage of genuinely new teaching materials.

"In order to get a professorial chair, university lecturers do anything to curry favour, pull connections and even pay money to someone else to write their dissertations."

Buying a better service

Take health: Authorities in a number of areas such as the prosperous southern province of Guangdong, have been trying to stamp out the practice of hospital doctors accepting cash gifts from patients in return for more attentive treatment.

"The local hospitals all say they've resolutely clamped down on cash gifts, but many hospital staff say that although doctors now rarely solicit them from patients, the patients find myriad ways to try to offer them," the Nanfang Ribao newspaper reported last month.

The newspaper stresses that doctors are now turning down such offers, even if to do so causes embarrassment.

Yet the amount of coverage devoted to the issue of late - and the way that Chinese media tend to concentrate their efforts on areas where problems do exist - makes it hard to believe that this kind of corruption is already a thing of the past.

"The way in which inter-personal relationships infiltrate the political processes, causing a lack of observance and enforcement of the law, is a major cause of corruption in the Party and government," says the Shanghai-based sociologist Cao Jinxing.

"Our system lack checks and balances," says a 24-year-old tour guide, even though he says he is sick of hearing his foreign customers criticising China all the time. .


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05 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
20 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
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