Set aside your written comments, Wang told those summoned to the Nov. 30 gathering, and say what you really want to about China’s corruption problem. “Even those in charge of supervision needed to be supervised,” he told them, according to several present.
The meeting was the beginning of a month-long anti-corruption campaign that has surprised many in China. Every few days, state-run newspapers and independent bloggers have trumpeted the investigation or arrest of a new official. And accompanying the stories have been salacious details — millions in unexplained assets, luxury houses, mistresses galore and sex videos to match.
Even so, experts here remain doubtful that the flood of publicity will result in fundamental, long-lasting changes to China’s culture of corruption.
Instead, they say, the anti-corruption rhetoric from high-level party officials and the well-publicized arrests represent a calculated move by China’s new leaders to soften growing resentment, anger and disillusionment toward the ruling Communist Party.
But many have noted the contrast between recent official denouncements of misbehaving low- and mid-level officials and the tight lid of silence concerning all higher-level officials and their families.
The New York Times reported in October that the family of outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion, a shocking figure even in a country where government corruption is rampant. That followed a Bloomberg News report in June that the extended family of Xi Jinping, China’s incoming president, had amassed $376 million.
Talk of reform is a tack that other Chinese leaders have taken in the past at the outset of their rule, historians note.
But these days, the biggest barrier to true reform, many believe, is simply the problem’s pervasive nature — with tentacles reaching into every sector of Chinese business, government and society.
Business deals, especially in industries dominated by state-run companies, often succeed or fail based on one’s coziness with government officials. Parents regularly ply principals and teachers with gift cards as they try to win admittance into the best public schools for their children and academic advantages within their classes. And fines across many sectors of society are often considered negotiable, based on the favor one has curried.
“It’s not enough to have this kind of anti-corruption storm,” said Ren Jianming, a longtime corruption researcher who attended the Nov. 30 meeting. “Only by establishing institutions or policies can you guarantee real change.”