Opinion / Blog

A story of graft

By teamkrejados ( Updated: 2015-07-06 17:33

There is a man, we'll call him Charlie, who has a school-age daughter. In China as in most everywhere else, people are limited to a choice of schools in their zoned district. Charlie's choice of primary schools is not appealing, so he talked to a colleague whose house lies in a district that boasts a good school. "How can I enroll my daughter in this better school?" he asked Steve.

Steve: "I know someone in the education ministy. You should give me 10,000 Yuan to pave the way for your daughter."

Charlie handed over the money and waited a month. Competition for school placement is fierce in China, so that amount of time worried him. Would the official respond to the 'gift'? Would his daughter attend that good school? He couldn't bear to wait any longer: enrollment time was just around the corner. Again Charlie approached his friend: “How about my request? Is your ministry friend considering it?”

“You should consider hosting a dinner for him and his officers. That way, you can meet him and show you are sincere.”

Charlie arranged for a banquet in a fine restaurant. The Minister and all of his office staff came. Some brought friends and others brought their family. The all enjoyed a nice meal and took leftovers and extra wine home. Charlie picked up the check: 5,000 Yuan.

Two weeks after that, upon again accosting Steve for news of his application, Charlie learned the minister really likes to go fishing. Steve suggested organizing a fishing party, which is exactly what Charlie did. The ministry workers showed up and everyone had a great time. Some had caught large fish and declared they would take their catch home. Again, Charlie foots the bill: 2,700 Yuan, plus the price of the fish everyone took home, sold by weight.

Whether it had dawned on Charlie by this time that he was being played for a sucker is not clear, and it wouldn't have mattered. He would do anything to gain an edge for his daughter in China's competitive academic arena.

The final insult came when Steve requested another 10,000 Yuan. “The minister will give it to the school's headmaster as a gift, so that he will enroll your daughter.” Whatever Charlie's state of mind was at that point, still he handed over the money.

This is a true story, related to me by one of my colleagues who teaches part-time in another university.

Whether Steve pocketed the first 10,000 Yuan is not known but could be what had happened, seeing as there was no response from the ministry. The party and dinner... could be perceived as bribes, but with everyone else – office workers, their families and friends involved, it would not have been clear-cut who Charlie was bribing. The last 10,000 Yuan, allegedly given to the school's headmaster, would not be counted as government graft. Apparently, officials in academic circles are not held to the same strict standards of graft President Xi Jinping imposes on government workers, although it would stand to reason that they should be.

I don't know anyone who could fault the Chinese government's attempt to stop the practice of bribery. The world looks on and are possibly envious of this country's leadership cleaning up the ranks and punishing offenders so publicly. I would imagine that Chinese citizens would be ecstatic at being freed of the yoke of guan xi that has held back less privileged citizens/families for centuries.

Charlie's experience was shocking to me, not just because of Steve's deliberate milking of a hopeful parent but for Charlie, handing over the money – more than his annual salary, presumably without thinking twice about it, and with no regard to China's attempt to expunge graft at all levels.

It seems that, in the 'macro' sense – as referenced in Sean Boyce's article: Do you love your culture?  The Chinese are jumping ship altogether: western clothing, restaurants, music styles and the like. In other ways, the undefined – or 'micro' aspects of culture, citizens are fighting tooth and nail to keep those habits/customs alive. To wit: the players in the drama above. Guan xi is an inextricable part of Chinese culture. In spite of any government efforts, it seems the citizens are intent on continuing these unfair practices. Or, maybe they can't imagine getting ahead without greasing a few palms.

What does the leadership of this country have to do to change that?

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