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Golden chance to end graft

Updated: 2014-02-27 03:23
( China Daily)

The new leadership of China, headed by Xi Jinping, the President, will complete its first year in office in March. Its dedicated mission is to broaden and deepen the time-tested reform and opening-up, which have commanded public support for more than 30 years.

To strengthen the tradition of reform and opening-up, the new economic measures are aimed at creating additional wealth and the new political measures seek to eliminate the social excesses that are anti-cohesive and wealth draining. The two measures are also directed at fighting their respective vices in a timely manner. The economic measures are completing the fight against the vice of poverty, and the political measures are chiming in to fight the potent, damaging vice of social excesses.

Golden chance to end graft


The new leadership's political measures against social excesses are known collectively as the "anti-corruption campaign", which also includes other practices of excesses such as waste, conspicuous consumption, and anti-social work styles of formalism, bureaucratization, hedonism and extravagance. Wealth creation and its concomitant social excesses constitute a universal pattern. As a historical and global fact, cases of significant wealth creation are often followed by the presence of corresponding social excesses such as corruption that are potent and damaging.

An apt case comes from a familiar piece of the United States' social history, dramatically documented by F. Scott Fitzgerald in his celebrated 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, which is about decadence and idealism. The US then, popularly known as the "Roaring Twenties", was in an era of unprecedented economic prosperity, which, despite sparkles of impressive global cultural, technological and industrial advances, succumbed ultimately to the unchecked social excesses: decadence, corruption, conspicuous consumption, bootlegging, organized crimes and the like.

Furthermore, these excesses were symptomatic of the dire global economic and political consequences to come. The "Roaring Twenties", which emerged out of the ashes of World War I and ended in the Wall Street Crash of 1929, were followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s, which, in turn, was followed by World War II (1939-1945), which was ignited in Asia by Japan's invasion of China in 1937.

China's successful reform and opening-up, together with its social excesses of corruption, also exemplifies this universal pattern. Soon after assuming the leadership of the Communist Party of China, Xi said: "Corruption, if unchecked, would lead to the demise of the Party and the nation." Fighting corruption requires the study of Chinese history. "History is the best textbook," Xi said, because history teaches, inspires, and induces. Xi also turned to Chinese literature, which has a strong sense of history.

Chinese poetry, for example, has "poetry on history", which as a sub-genre was already fully developed during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Xi quoted from three major Tang "poetry on history" masterpieces: Bai Juyi's (772-846) Song of Eternal Grievance, Du Mu's (803-852) Epang Palace Fu , and Li Shangyin's (813-858) On History. Xi's quotation from Li Shangyin says it all: "Past worthies, (when) surveyed about country and home, (concluded that) accomplishments spring from hard work and frugality, and defeats trace to extravagance (and indulgence)." The universal presence of the "wealth creation and corruption" pair is both alarming and disturbing for all. Thankfully there are sensitive souls like Fitzgerald and Li Shangyin, who, through their sharp and sagacious historical observations remind and prompt us to take proper actions. In emphasizing "hard work and frugality" over "extravagance and indulgence", Li gave us a simple summary articulation of the fundamental social-political-economic value of China.

This very value was present at an occasion just before the founding of the People's Republic of China. In 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong, during the Second Plenum of the 7th CPC Central Committee at Xibaipo in Hebei province, reaffirmed this ancient value in his famous "The Two Musts" dictum, which states: "Party members must maintain continuously the (virtuous) style of humility, caution, freedom from pride and freedom from disquietude. Party members must also maintain continuously the style of hard work and struggles." "The Two Musts", reflecting Chinese value of the highest order, support anti-corruption efforts, past and present. Accordingly, this dictum was reaffirmed at Xibaipo by former president Jiang Zemin in 1991 and his successor Hu Jintao in 2002, and by Xi in 2013.

They are distinct instances of "socialism with Chinese characteristics" in the making. Over the past year, the anti-corruption campaign has been most prominent, so prominent that Xi has garnered, justified or not, a tough image, for his role in making sure that the campaign is carried out with methodic thoroughness, education, transparency, massiveness, resolution and effectiveness, all in short order. There is no denying that the Xi-led anti-corruption campaign is firm and resolute. This is normal given Xi's personal experience and political style, and especially because of the historical and cultural context described above.

But to give Xi a "strongman" image at any point seems quite unnecessary and beside the point. In other words, calling attention on the subjective resolute actor alone is to ignore the more important objective reality and the rationale for the resolute action itself. China's ongoing anti-corruption campaign is timely and appropriate, and will pave the way not only for the fulfillment of the Chinese Dream, but also for the general global well-being.

The potent and damaging corruption, which invariably follows wealth creation, is a stubborn perennial human reality, to be overcome at every opportunity, especially when there is a will and a way. China's ongoing anti-corruption campaign is such an opportunity.

The author teaches philosophy at Montclair State University, New Jersey, US.