by Ziyan Peng

Corruption and China’s Anti-Corruption Campaigns

Corruption in China post-1949 lies in the “organizational involution” of the ruling party, including the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) policies, institutions, norms, and failure to adapt to a changing environment in the post-Mao era caused by the market liberalization reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping. Like other socialist economies that have undertaken economic reforms, such as post-Soviet Eastern Europe and Central Asia, reform-era China has experienced increasing levels of corruption.

China’s economic reforms began in 1978, with the conception of “Developing Economics Goes First”, political corruption has grown significantly since then. Instead of slowing down because of greater economic freedom, corruption has turned out to grow more entrenched and severe in its character and scope. The types of offenses vary, though usually they involve trading bribes for political favors, such as local businesses trying to secure large government contracts or subordinates seeking promotions for higher office.

In popular perception, there are more dishonest CPC officials than honest ones, a reversal of the views held in the first decade of reform of the 1980s. China famous specialist Minxin Pei argues that failure to prevent widespread corruption is among the most serious threats to China’s future economic and political stability.[1]  Bribery, kickbacks, theft, and misspending of public funds cost at least three percent of GDP. China, though not a member of the OECD, has participated as an observer in the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions.

Anti-corruption efforts have been on the agenda of successive Chinese leaders, though the effectiveness of these campaigns vary. A far-reaching campaign against corruption began in China following the conclusion of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012. The campaign, carried out under the aegis of Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (paramount leader), was the largest organized anti-graft effort in the history of Communist rule in China. From that day, cadre corruption in China has been subject to significant media attention. In Xi’s first days in office, he vowed to crack down on “tigers and flies”, that is, high-ranking officials and petty civil servants alike. He also warned his colleagues on the Politburo that corruption would “doom the party and state.”

Anti-Corruption Campaign in Hubei Province

Hubei Province is located in the Central China region. It has an area of 185,900 km2 (ranked 13th in China) and a population of 58,500,000 (ranked 9th in China). Hubei had a GDP of CNY 3.2 trillion (US$ 486 billion), ranked 7th of China, and always acted as the leader in economic development in the Central China region. With its unique history, cultural characteristics of being moderate and sophisticated, and geography as the hub of national transportation, the degree of corruption in Hubei is severe.

Under the circumstance of anti-corruption campaign throughout the whole nation, Government and CPC also attached great importance to anti-corruption campaign in Hubei. From 2012 to 2017, anti-corruption campaign reached to different levels, from the top high prefecture level, to lower local county level. In 2016, in aggregate there were 115 cases related to investigations of officials at department/bureau level. 105 department/bureau level officials had get their punishments, the degrees of which relied on the severity of the officials’ corruption. From “tigers” to “flies”, which refer to high-level officials to petty local civil servants, the Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDI) had investigated in 22381 cases, and punished 20561 officials. All in all, the anti-corruption campaign in 2016 have saved CNY 38.7 million for the nation.[2]

In order to establish an efficient and effective anti-corruption campaign, and develop this campaign as a constant active action, Hubei should develop its strategy in these following filed.


  1. Treat officials at different levels as the same.

Actually, when conducting anti-graft movements, there once existed certain unspoken rule regarding high level senior officials. Since the end of the Cultural Revolution, government to some degree have officials at high levels corrupting as long as they could generate or contribute to economic development. As a consequence, anti-corruption movement before Xi had few achievement partly because of the conservative actions. However, under Xi’s leadership, the anti-corruption campaign was executed under the direction of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) and its Secretary Wang Qishan along with corresponding military and judicial organs, the campaign was notable in implicating both incumbent and former national-level leaders, including former Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) member ZhouYongkang and former military leaders Xu Caihou and Guo Boxiong.

As we can see, some leaders at the top level, which are referred as tigers were inspected and punished. If the central government and provincial governments determinate to have this movement to land on the earth, and create a fair and honest political environment, there should be more attention attached to treat Tigers and flies as the same. No matter the person is the secretary of the CPC Hubei Committee, or the person is an officer in a county-level tax department, as long as she/he violate the principle being clean and honest, or accepting a bribe, she/he should get punishment according to the degree and amount of bribery.

Some cases showed that some junior-level officials would be easier to be dishonest, since the anti-corruption movement seldom goes down to the fundamental level and investigates everyone, which might take plenty of time and money. Also, although the local civil servants don’t have strong power to be a decision-maker, they are the officials who link directly to the public. So even the leaders of these institutions are honest, the result of the anti-corruption campaign would not reach the status as expected because those direct links make use of their position to hinder or lag off the operation process. If the CPC want to have a very clean and honest operation circumstance, there should be same efforts on the fundamental level as the senior level.

  1. Keep an eye on the “cold” departments or institutions

Anti-corruption campaign should treat all departments and institutions as the same. Some departments like judicial, tax, fiscal, merchants are treated as the “hot” targets of the inspection, because there exists common sense that these department are highly related to businesses and easy to have briberies with the businessmen. However, there are other departments or institutions should be noticed as well. These institutions appear to have nothing to do with the money and power exchange outside, and they are the so called “cold” places. But do not miss out these “cold” institutions.

For instance, a museum curator in Guangdong Province brought some of the collection out and utilize his social network (“Guanxi”) to sold them in the black markets. Consequently, the curator generated millions of dollars through the improper channel. A principal of a primary school used his power to have his more than 10 relatives working in that school without formal application, examination, approval. Fields of culture, like arts and education, are hard to be linked with money, power and bribery, consequently are easy to be ignored in the anti-corruption campaign. Nevertheless, CDI should investigate every corner and make sure there is no chance for corruption even though in some unpopular fields.

  1. Cooperation of the Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDI) with other departments.

Anti-graft is not a responsibility only belongs to the CDI group, it is a movement for the whole communist party of China. There should be more cooperation and coordination of other departments with CDI group. Departments, such as Public Security Bureau, Supreme/High/Local People’s Court, The People’s Procuratorate should actively participate into the anti-corruption campaign.

First of all, these departments could provide more professional inspection channel, resource, and power support to CDI group. When CDI group investigating officials, these departments should assist its work rather than impede the investigation. Second, these department would serve as the operating agencies after the inspection. The procuratorate and court would decide the punishment and the public security bureau might charge for the conduction of the punishment to the officials’ corruption. Third, these departments themselves are regarded as the most justice agencies and the symbol of justice and honesty. These department should actively participate in the anti-corruption movement to show CPC’s firm determination to fight against corruption.

  1. Public engagement.

Public engagement is a significant segment of the anti-corruption campaign. The goal of the campaign is to create an efficient and clean public operation environment for the people. As the hosts of this country and the biggest beneficiaries, the public should be actively involved in the movement. The public has the duty to supervise the officials, and the public has the responsibility to report to relative departments about the corruption and bribery behaviors of the officials, no matter which level the officials serve at.

According to an online social survey, the top three topics which the public concerned most before “Lianghui” are social security, anti-corruption, and income redistribution. With the conception being a tax-payer and citizen built up, more and more people from different positions are willing to engage in the public issues. What’s more, with the development of internet, the social media is playing an increasing important role in society. The CDI group should reunion the intelligence and efforts of the public to fight against corruption. The public should be encouraged to supervise the behaviors of officials, then report the dishonest behaviors through offline and online channels. Another point need to be addressed, the public should be rewarded and provided security if they report the bribery. Otherwise, people might hesitate whether report or not because of potential pressure from the officials involved in the corruption, or other pressure outside.


Anti-corruption is not a movement within one or two days, one or two months. Instead, it is a constant nationwide campaign. Every citizen should be engaged to realize its duty and rights to supervise the Communist Party of China and government. Every member serving in the CPC and government system should deny corruption and try to be a fair and honest servant. As long as the public and officials all set the conception for anti-graft, Hubei would overcome the corruption and develop an honest economic and political environment for the public.


[1] [1] Pei, M. (2007). Corruption threatens China’s future (No. 55, pp. 6-7). Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

[2] Hubei CDI Anti-Corruption Annual Report, 2016.