Thu, Jul 22, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Two tales of BMWs reveal the scope of corruption in China

By Hu Yong

"I don't care about the verdict and whether it is justice or not," he said.

The most harmful consequence is the public's loss of trust in the system. Social trust is not something you can buy with money. If an entire society believes that you cannot depend on legal rights for protection -- that one must instead rely on a web of relationships with those who have power and influence -- questions about whether such a society is livable or desirable will remain.

Similarly, in the second BMW incident, people didn't blame a corrupt businessman; they ascribed culpability to the lottery center, a government body. So instead of mistrusting one person, they grew suspicious of an institution -- even of government itself. When a stubborn teenager went up against the mighty lottery authority with its army of auditors and inspectors and initial alibis, this individual, not the system, was the clear winner of the public's admiration.

Liu Liang may have been just a working-class kid, but there was wisdom in his words that there is still a "silent majority" who can affect the workings of China's fragile society. He refused to settle privately, because he believed that if he let corrupt government officials off the hook, "they'll keep scamming the public." Thanks to his perseverance and the media's investigations, the fraud was laid bare.

Power corrupts everywhere, but individuals in China such as Liu have come to form a countervailing force. Even so, such marginal forces do not yet constitute a system for redressing grievances. While pop music fans in China can listen to whatever they like, including Madonna singing "I'm gonna shake up the system," ordinary Chinese need courage to speak such messages aloud. As one saying goes, "There is not want of conscience in the Chinese, but there is want of courage."

Hu Yong is a producer with China Central Television Channel II and a pioneer of the Internet in China.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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