By David Bandurski — We are now just one week away from the official anniversary of 30 years of economic reform in China, and more voices are speaking up about the nation’s future. Earlier this week, more than 300 intellectuals, lawyers, business people and human rights defenders signed an open letter, “Charter 08,” that said “the decline of the current system has reached the point where change is no longer optional” [English translation by Perry Link here]. [Frontpage: Beijing government building by “Buck82” available at under Creative Commons license.]
There is no question that “Charter 08,” which calls for separation of powers (ever a tinderbox term in China), legislative democracy and a new Chinese constitution, will infuriate Chinese leaders already on high alert for a series of sensitive anniversaries this year and next. And there are reports already that dissident Liu Xiaobo has been detained for his role in drafting the letter.
But the party’s own prominent scholars are stepping into the spotlight too.
This week, a number of newspapers ran an interview with Yu Keping (俞可平), a liberal party scholar who serves as director of the Central Translation Bureau, a CCP think tank, and is an outspoken proponent of democracy.
Yu has said in the past that China is evolving toward “its own unique form of democracy.” [See ESWN’s translation of Yu’s essay, “Democracy is a Good Thing“].
China News Service coverage of Yu Keping’s comments on the fight against official corruption appeared in several major papers, including Guangzhou’s New Express and Southern Metropolis Daily.


[ABOVE: Yesterday’s coverage of Yu Keping’s remarks in Southern Metropolis Daily.]

In the China News Service article, Yu Keping argues that as China looks ahead to further reforms “one important area of breakthrough will have to be government corruption.” Specifically, Yu takes issue with the present one-dimensional focus on monitoring of officials in the present anti-corruption regime, which fails to take into account the need for more fundamental change to institutions.
A partial translation follows:

Professor Yu Keping (俞可平), director of the Central Translation Bureau, who became a familiar name at home and overseas for his article, “Democracy is a Good Thing,” has said amidst the 30th anniversary of the Open Door Policy that reforms in China have reached a critical point that demands a “breakthrough.” In an interview with our reporter recently, Yu Keping said he believed that one important area of breakthrough will have to be government corruption.
“. . . According to China’s traditional culture, corruption is acceptable in all but two areas — the first is teaching, the second is medicine. These two areas have been seen as representing the conscience of society. Regrettably, these two areas have already begun to degenerate. The reasons for this, aside from personal factors, stem primarily from the social environment, and particularly from the serious problem of official corruption. Government officials play an especially important role in China, defining the direction of society as a whole. It is inevitable that this kind of environment [of official corruption] should affect the educational and medical sectors.”
Yu Keping, who in past research has expressed optimism on the question of corruption, has now begun to consider anew the serious nature of government corruption [in China], and he hopes to lead people away form some misconceptions about corruption and the monitoring of power.
Yu Keping pointed out in particular that as soon as discussion in academia and in the media turns to the fight against corruption these days, the topic inevitably turns to the question of power monitoring. While this view is basically correct, he says, it is incomplete.
“Practically speaking, the party and the government have already paid sufficient attention to the monitoring of power in recent years, and many inspection mechanisms have been established from the central government down to the local governments . . . a whole series of [discipline] inspection mechanisms have taken the stage one after another. I can be said that no country has, like us, been so expansive and so specific in the making of regulations, so that we even have a special rule for the entertainment of guests with public money, specifying only “four dishes and one soup.” Aside from this punishments can’t be said to be too light — how many corrupt officials have been killed or locked away? There has been no shortage of awards for clean officials, and anti-corruption education has been emphasized every year, every month, every day even. We’ve done so much and reaped results, but why is the corruption problem still so serious? This requires that we do some earnest self-examination. I believe we need some breakthroughs on the question of corruption. This includes both conceptual and institutional breakthroughs. “
If compensation is sufficient, why does corruption persist?
Yu Keping believes that officials are already compensated adequately, but corruption persists nevertheless, and the numbers are more and more stupefying. What do they need with so much money? “There are many reasons for official corruption. Some people are corrupt in their natures . . . but this kind of corrupt official is extremely rare. Another two types of official corruption should be given our utmost attention: the first is the keeping of mistresses, and the second is [corruption lavished on the] sons and daughters [of officials]. According to authoritative media reports, 95 percent of all corrupt officials have mistresses. In fact, they would more accurately be called “second wives” or “third wives.” These relationships are not romantic but rather pure instances of the exchange of sex and power. These “mistresses” are not after love but after money. Aside from this, a number of corrupt officials send their sons and daughters overseas to study, even buying homes and cars for them, and this requires a great deal of money.”
Therefore, Yu Keping said, “If we only emphasize the monitoring of power in fighting corruption . . . then the results will be limited. As we improve our capacity for monitoring power, we need to go beyond power monitoring in seeking points of breakthrough. As the central party leadership has emphasized, in fighting corruption we need to begin by getting to the root of the problem, particularly the issues of the selection and appointment of officials, restraints on power, responsibility systems for cadres, and transparency in government affairs,” building a system of clean governance.
On the issue of cadre responsibility systems (干部责任体制) as they currently stand, Yu Keping said he believed that creating responsibility systems (干部问责制) marked a point of real progress in our building of a responsible government. But some responsibility systems, [he said], needed to be reformed. For example, we have these systems called “the first person responsible system” (第一责任人负责制) and “the single vote rejection system” (一票否决制), which as systems sound well and good, but which are inherently insufficient. This is a bit like “political contracting” (政治承包). If you make the official in the top post take on all of the responsibility [for a given problem], whatever the problem is, then you must also give him the appropriate degree of power. Absolute responsibility requires absolute power. And absolute power by definition surpasses all monitoring. So the problem that arises is this: if you let him take on absolute responsibility, then you must give him absolute power, but absolute power will inevitably result in a failure of monitoring and supervision. If you want to effectively monitor officials in top posts (一把手) you cannot give them absolute power, but if you do not give them absolute power, you cannot let him take on total responsibility.

[Posted by David Bandurski, December 11, 2008, 11:37am HK]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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