Edited by Barney Warf
Chapter 19: Corruption in China
China is not only the world’s most populous country, it is also one of the most corrupt. This chapter charts the growth of Chinese corruption since its incorporation into the world economy began in the late twentieth century, noting the shift from individual behaviour to an organized collective practice. In a country with a highly centralized power structure and severe censorship, corruption is one of the major threats to the Communist Party. Corruption within the Communist Party has radiated out into the judiciary, law enforcement, and finance. Widespread bribery, kickbacks, the buying and selling of promotions, embezzlement, illegal taxes, the stripping of state-owned enterprises, nepotism, and cronyism testify to the capture of the Chinese state by corrupt parties. China’s failure to develop a Weberian bureaucracy, that is, a meritocracy with clear lines of responsibility and accountability, has played a central role in this disaster. The reliance of local governments on discretionary transfers of funds from the national state and absence of an independent judiciary has compounded the problem. As a result, the anti-corruption efforts of Xi Jinping, including the arrest of 1.3 million officials since 2014, have had minimal impacts. Tellingly, only 3 per cent of those were criminally prosecuted. However, China also exhibits a “corruption paradox”, in which high levels of malfeasance have not led to political instability or lowered its high rates of economic growth.
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