In China, where corruption cases are regarded as potentially dangerous sources of social instability, there is a tendency toward ritual demonization in much corruption-related news coverage. Government prosecutors release a dossier of sins and indiscretions and Chinese media feed on the ugly details. How much money was taken? How many mistresses did he have? [PHOTO: Liu Zhihua meets with workers in January 2006, The Beijing News].
When an official from Hebei was charged with corruption in 2001, the media even detailed an episode of road rage to show what a nasty fellow he was:
Li Zhen paid no mind to traffic signals, but roared straight through whether the light was red or green. More experienced traffic cops, who knew his car by sight, never dared stop him. A fresh recruit, not knowing better, once pulled Li over, but the official rolled his window down, spat directly in his face and peeled off down the road. (Legal Daily, June 14, 2003)
If you’ve been reading up on the most recent case, the firing of Beijing Vice-Mayor Liu Zhihua (刘志华) for his “decadent” lifestyle (we are told by media inside and outside China that he had a “pleasure palace” full of concubines), this kind of treatment will sound familiar.
[Coverage from The Guardian]
[Click here for China Daily’s take]
[Coverage from Reuters]
[Coverage from The Globe and Mail]
From the standpoint of the Chinese leadership, the wonderful thing about such coverage is that boat-rocking questions about endemic corruption are drowned out by the media circus. So how are Chinese media doing this time? Is anyone teasing out the deeper issues? Given the trickle of available information, and most likely a ban on reporting (under which media are ordered to use only official Xinhua News Agency coverage), one must turn once again to the editorials.
To start us off with the predictable, Lanzhou Chen Bao, a commercial spin-off of the official Gansu Daily, focused, like most everyone else, on the story’s moral aspects and thought it was a good time to revisit the “Eight Honors and Eight Disgraces”, President Hu Jintao’s new campaign of national moral cleansing:
This [action against Liu Zhihua] signals another success in our Party’s anti-corruption campaign, and a reminder of the urgent need for the Socialist Honor and Shame Ideology.
In light contrast, a June 13 commentary in Hebei’s Dahe Daily hinted at soft enforcement of discipline and argued for a bit more “common sense” on the part of inspection officials:
Common sense would suggest that when an official holding substantial power is dissolute in his lifestyle, he is guilty also of graft and corruption, exchanging his position for profit or sex. So it is odd that for so many years, discipline inspection authorities have apparently not exercised such common sense.
An editorial posted the same day on People.com and called “Thoughts on the Removal of Beijing Vice-Mayor Liu Jianhua” said:
At the very least, these kinds of problems should cause us to think very deeply. Whether control has been lost over the supervision of those like Liu Jianhua, whether the power of those like Liu Jianhua is indeed being monitored at all, whether the problem of these Liu Jianhua’s has been adequately addressed by the relevant government offices.
Following up at the relatively outspoken Southern Metropolis Daily, commentator and former CMP fellow Yan Lieshan said the people should have a right to monitor their leaders on the basis of “unverified information or whispers” (捕风捉影), the clear implication being that people, and not just inspection officials, should have a greater role in scrutinizing leaders. While the historical use of this term, bu feng zhuo ying, is negative, Yan intentionally adapted it, saying the concept could play a positive role in allowing people to participate in checking the power of their leaders:
On the basis of evidence disclosed so far [in the official Xinhua release] its impossible for people outside the government to say whether Liu Jianhua’s so-called “decadence” occurred before or after he served as vice-mayor …
Now, according to China’s constitution, people have the right to participate in the management of public affairs and the affairs of the country, and the right to monitor government officials in accordance with the law. The “sanction of the masses” is also a basic principle in the ruling Party’s selection of cadres. Well then, the people have a right to monitor their leaders at whatever level on the basis of ‘unverified information or whispers’ – the only condition being that they do so within the scope allowed by the law and not by putting up big Propaganda Posters and setting off fireworks …
A commentary by China Business Times, available online via this personal blog, explored the “real intention” and “professed position” of the People’s Congress in dealing with Liu Zhihua, and expressed its doubts succinctly:
Vice-mayor Liu was fired because of his decadent lifestyle … But I find it hard to entirely believe this official explanation.
[Posted by Brian Chan and David Bandurski, June 16, 2006, 6:20pm]