On Dec. 28, 2013, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Hunan Provincial Committee pronounced itself shocked—shocked—that bribery had been used in the election to the Hunan Provincial People’s Congress.
The election had taken place a year ago, and the bribery was widespread. The representatives of Hengyang City People’s Congress elected 76 representatives to the Hunan Provincial People’s Congress. Of those 76 representatives, 56 had bribed city representatives.
Bribes totaling 110 million yuan (US$18 million) went to 518 representatives and 68 staff members of the Hengyang City People’s Congress. Only 11 representatives did not receive bribes. One wonders what they did to get left out.
Challenge to the Party
In the statement on Dec. 28, the CCP Hengyang City Committee and officials condemned the bribery. What they condemned is very interesting. The Party Committee officially described the case as a “challenge to our country’s People’s Congress system, to the socialist democratic political system, and to the state’s laws and the Party’s discipline.”
The head of the Hunan provincial Discipline Inspection Commission—the local office meant to keep Party members in line—expressed the same points with slightly different words. The last in his list of challenges was, “It’s the direct destruction of socialist democracy and the Party’s internal democratic rules.”
That the bribes are a challenge to the system of the People’s Congresses is perfectly understandable. The representatives should be prearranged, Party-approved, and well-controlled.
The accepted way of bribing is to bribe Party officials, not the members of the Hengyang City People’s Congress, and to let the Party officials make the arrangements. How could someone bypass the respectable Party officials and directly bribe the city representatives? This is way out of line and definitely unacceptable.
The real meaning of the challenge to the socialist-democratic political system is that the bribes threatened the Party’s full control.
The first two challenges mentioned by the Hengyang City Committee, then, are challenges to the CCP. That’s the reason for the anger at the bribery.
The third challenge, the challenge to the Party’s discipline or the Party’s rules for internal democracy is a little confusing. The election was not for representatives to the CCP’s Congress. It was for the Provincial People’s Congress, which is not formally a Party organization.
In fact, we all know that the People’s Congress is what is called a “rubber stamp” in China—it exists simply to provide a show of democracy, while actually serving as a CCP tool. But usually the Party doesn’t admit out loud that it is calling the shots.
Is Bribery Normal?
Even though the details of the bribery case in Hengyang City have not been revealed, the mainland finance magazine Caixin published an article about a similar case in Shaoyang City, also in Hunan Province.
In that report, a man named Huang Yubiao told the reporter how he failed to be elected: “The bribery money was not enough.”
Like those in Hengyang, Huang wanted to become a representative in the provincial People’s Congress. Introduced by a Shaoyang official, Huang sent money to the city representatives of nine counties. In total, he sent 320 packages with 1,000 yuan each.
In other words, he attempted to buy a seat for 320,000 yuan, much less than the approximately 2 million yuan spent by each elected provincial representative from Hengyang City. But Huang didn’t get elected.
From this story, we know that the bribery has an open price. This is very unusual even in China. Bribery usually takes place under the table. Even though there is a market price that everybody knows, regular bribery is more like a closed bid.
It takes time to develop from an illegal closed bid to an open bid. It requires all the participating parties to accept the idea and the practice. It also requires the Party and state officials at that level and one level higher to turn a blind eye.
It probably takes a decade or more to develop such an environment and culture without interference.
It’s a culture all right. It took one year for Hunan authorities to act. But right after the election, those who spent money but were not elected had already started to report the bribery to the authorities.
Obviously, the Hunan authorities did not decide independently to resolve this corruption case. Rather, this is part of the new leadership’s anti-corruption campaign.
The People’s Congress has always been considered a rubber stamp. It approves the Party’s will and makes it law.
The Hengyang bribery case can be viewed from different angles. Some people say that the representatives chosen through bribery are better than those who are hand-picked and appointed by the Party.
However, even if all the representatives are not appointed by the Party, the People’s Congress is still a rubber stamp, and bribery can’t change that. Or the Party won’t allow the change. The progressive change or reform of the Chinese regime’s political system is impossible—at least there has so far been no example of such reform.
Critics say that the bribery violated Chinese law and should be punished. Even though the bribery challenged the Party’s rule, it was not necessarily the right thing to do. No one should use the wrong methods even to reach a “right” goal.
Is it possible that the new entrepreneurs who emerged from the last decades of economic development tried to bribe their way into the People’s Congress because they wanted to have their voices heard?
If so, that would be a positive development. One observer has even claimed that the rubber stamp has now become hardened. In other words, the People’s Congress is no longer so efficient in its role of stamp; it is beginning to show signs of independence.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. One good example is the recently terminated Re-education Through Labor (RTL) system. The RTL system has been criticized by many people, from human rights activists to legal professionals, for a very long time.
As early as 2005, in the National People’s Congress (NPC) the “criminal-activity-correction law” was proposed as a replacement for the RTL system. But the motion was never even discussed due to strong resistance from the security forces.
However, once the Party decided to abandon the RTL in November 2013, the Standing Committee of the NPC immediately passed the decision to terminate the RTL on Dec. 28, 2013. Without the CCP’s decision, the NPC could do nothing.
From what we know about the Hengyang City case and similar cases, those paying bribes took the cash from their own pockets and borrowed from others if they did not have enough.
Who would do this? Definitely not the Party and state officials. They are rich enough, but they would bribe their way up through Party or state connections, which is much more profitable, and safer than trying to bribe 500 city representatives.
Would the CEOs of state-owned enterprises do this? This is also very unlikely. They are actually high-ranking Party and state officials. They don’t need to be representatives in the People’s Congress. If they wanted to be, they would be appointed by the Party and would not pay bribes with their own money.
Most likely, those who tried to bribe their way onto the provincial People’s Congress are the owners of private enterprises. They have money, but they don’t feel secure and want some kind of protection. They can’t become Party or state officials, because those doors are not open to them.
What’s left to them are the People’s Congress, the Political Consultative Conference, and the democratic parties. Those organizations don’t have real political power. But to make sure they can play their roles well, the Party gives them some privileges, or special treatment.
If the local government officials want to seize someone’s business or property, those with the seats in those organizations might get some protection. In other words, they buy protection, not from the Mafia, but from the Party and the state’s greedy officials. This is sad, but it’s reality in China.
The Hunan Party and state officials and official mouthpieces criticized and condemned the bribery in Hengyang City. Was this bribery really bad?
Well, it depends on what standard one uses. In a democratic country with real elections, bribery is illegal and bad. But people should not use the same standard in a country with no real legal system and with most people never casting a ballot.
If those who paid bribes are elected, will their votes on bills, resolutions, regulations, and laws be worse than those being appointed by the Party? Not necessarily.
In China, one of the most infamous and notorious representatives is Shen Jilan. Shen was a representative at 12 NPCs, from the first NPC in 1954 to the 12th NPC in 2013. She never voted “nay,” not even once.
She famously said: “As a representative, I must listen to the Party. We are democratically elected; I don’t exchange opinions with voters.” How could anyone do a worse job than this person?
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.