Status of law and corruption control in post-reform China


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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  • Guoping JIANG


Awarding Institution
Award date2 Oct 2008


Corruption has been persistent in human history for thousands of years. From the Alpis to the Yangtze River, from biblical time to post-modern era, it features our societies all the time. Since the early days of Chinese Confucian civilization, corruption has been puzzling China. When Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) came to power, he stressed more on economic development and less on ideological struggle. Therefore a new policy of “Open and Reform” was implemented in 1978 targeting a market economy system. The policy was successful regarding to the economic development. People in China enjoyed a better life. However, the new policy not only brought a booming economy to China, but also negative side-effects, such as corruption and crimes. It is so rampant that “in the post-Mao era, political corruption has become one of the central concerns, even an obsession, for the citizens of the People’s Republic of China” (Hsu, 2001:27). Although corruption is a universal phenomenon, there is no well accepted definition for it. The existing definitions (moral perspective, legal perspective, P-A-C perspective, rent-seeking perspective, and public culture perspective) reflect particular aspects of corruption, and provide insights for corruption research. However, these approaches share one assumption that individuals do something wrong according to ruling group’ standards or the dominant values. A commonly missed point in their analyses is that the ruling group’s standards or interests considerations are never challenged. It might be overstated to refer it to “false consciousness”, but it is inappropriate not questioning ruling group’s ideology and entrenched interests at all. “Given the impossibility of using the social categories of crime and deviance as scientific categories or observational terms with definable, constant and consistent behavioral referents, it makes most sense to treat them as elements of highly contextualized moral and political discourses, i.e. negative ideological categories with specific, historical applications” (Sumner 1990:26). Based on that, rather than analyzing corruption following ruling group’s logic, Lo (1993) examines corruption in societal (social, political and economic) structures and historical background with the ruling group’s interests and political economy such as power, class, ideology, conflict, institution and culture taken into account. His finding shows that it is unconvincing if not to challenge the class bias in corruption research, and it is more appropriate to treat corruption as “a form of social censure” which is a negative category of moral ideology created and enforced by the ruling group in societies (Lo 1993:3). Such a macro perspective helps to avoid class biases because it goes beyond it by rejecting ruling group’s normative assumption or behavioral prerequisite about corruption and therefore exposes the essence or nature of corruption which is overlooked in the former definitions. If corruption were a special form of social censure, it would serve the ruling group in nature. The ruling group’s ultimate goal is to maintain hegemony. All other goals or considerations are subject to it or serve it, including anticorruption. Therefore the ruling group or political elites will take many other issues into account in the process of anticorruption, such as establishing legitimacy, gaining public support, winning power struggle, and personnel arrangement, for the reason of hegemony. In addition, the ruling group is not always a coherent group. There are fragmentations and sub-groups within it, and the dominant faction always controls the social censure. The dominant faction exists at various levels such as central government, provincial government, municipal government, and county government. On the one hand, they want to maintain the whole ruling group’ hegemony; on the other hand, they have their own entrenched interests to consider. For example, in most cases, the censure on corruption is “instruments with which party leaders pursue ideological and political struggles” (Lo 1993:155). With the ultimate goal of hegemony and various aims or considerations in consideration, the censure on corruption is hard to be consistent across the nation. In this sense, anticorruption is just application of social censure, and cannot be successful. However, there are many clean governments around the world including Ice Island, Finland, Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Why are they clean given the “bad” nature of corruption? Our preliminary research suggests that status of law might play an important role in the censure on corruption. The censure on corruption would be different if law is highly respected (namely rule of law) or highly disrespected (rule by law or rule of man). The rule of law basically means a complete and well publicized legislation, independent judicial system and fair law enforcement. Without rule of law, the censure on corruption in mainland China is conditioned by too many political considerations and personal interference, and therefore faces difficulties. To test the above theoretical propositions, the author conducted both quantitative and qualitative research in Mainland China. More than 1100 questionnaires were collected from three universities which are located in the north, middle and south China. Eighteen in-depth interviews were done with imprisoned corrupt officials and officials in power. Both quantitative and qualitative data tend to suggest that the theoretical imagination that corruption in essence is a form of social censure which serves the ruling group or political elites in society. In post-reform China, they targeted specific behaviors or groups, and created a form of social censure for their interests or ideology. To maximum the interests and maintain hegemony to the largest extent, they also manipulated the judicial process and distorted the justice. The rule of law could constrain the manipulation on the social censure, but data suggest that the post-reform China is only rule by law state wherein the law is instrumental to the ruling group, governments and political elites. The rule by law allows arbitrariness in the creation and application of social censure by the ruling group or political elites. The nature of pro-ruling class as a political tool is explained and illustrated in full in post-reform China with many documentary cases and interview cases. Given this, bizarre anticorruption outcomes and rampancy of corruption are unavoidable in post-reform mainland China.

    Research areas

  • Political corruption, Misconduct in office, China, Law and legislation, Bribery