XI'AN -- Much has been made
of the corruption that has tarnished the image of Chinese local government
officials but it seems bribery among the country's authoritative ranks was in
full swing more than 2,800 years ago.
The inscriptions on two bronze urns unearthed recently in northwest China's
Shaanxi province tell the story of how, in 873 B.C., a noble man managed to
bribe the judiciary in order to dodge charges of appropriating farmland and
The inscriptions on each urn contain 111 ancient Chinese characters, which
detail the story, narrated in the first person by Zhou Sheng, who was taken to
court by disgruntled civilians, according to Wu Zhenfeng, archaeologist of
Shaanxi Institute of Archaeology.
A legal investigator named Shao Bohu was sent to Zhou's manor but Zhou
managed to bribe Shao's mother with a bronze pot and Shao's father with a large
jade instrument. Zhou received no punishment and in return for Shao's
"kindness", Zhou presented him with a jade Gui, an elongated pointed tablet
which was held by ancient rulers on ceremonial occasions.
"It is rare to find 'bribery stories' in Chinese ancient inscriptions.
Usually only heroic stories, wars, evidence of a king's largess, covenants and
policies are seen on relics," said Zhang Enxian, curator of Zhouyuan Museum in
Baoji City, northwest China's Shaanxi.
The urns were among the 27 relics discovered by six peasants on November 9 in
their fields in Fufeng town in Baoji City, 110 kilometers west of Xi'an,
according to Zhang Enxian, curator of Zhouyuan museum in Baoji city in Shaanxi
"As the story was interpreted by archaeologists, it doesn't mean it is
necessarily correct," said Zhang.
"Some verbs have been abraded over time, which has made it hard for people to
verify if Zhou was really guilty," he added.
Professor Ding Li, with the Law Department of Sun Yat-sen University, does
not subscribe to the view that Zhou's actions constituted bribery in its
"According to China's current criminal law, Shao would have been convicted of
judicial corruption. But Zhou Sheng and Shao Bohu were probably innocent at that
time as laws for nobles during the Zhou Dynasty were much more lenient,"
Professor Ding said.