Domestic Affairs

Bribery refined

By Zuo Likun (
Updated: 2010-07-07 12:19
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Bribery refined
Cartoon courtesy of Yangtze Daily 

Official battening on bribes to enrich private coffers is but a walking corpse soon to decay by its own corruption. A spate of recent bribery scandals, some involving ranking officials, has revealed how the disgraceful deals have evolved to gloss over their decadence and protect them from public scrutiny, as well as the uphill task ombudsmen are facing.

Unlike conventional grafters who hoard money as obsessively as feces-burying dung beetles, a new group of hypocrites has emerged, chastely claiming to be disgusted at earthly offerings such as cash bribes, not for any disciplinary concern but for the legal inconvenience they incur.

Bribery refinedAn overnight big fortune with no presentable legitimacy will either become a trove hidden for eternity, or, when used, a time bomb ready to explode any minute. That's why bribery of valuable artworks and precious antiques are now in vogue, no less in value but infinitely more deceptive.

A contentious issue during the trial two months ago of Wen Qiang, former deputy chief of Chongqing police, involved his ill-gotten treasure of calligraphy and painting scrolls, among them a painting allegedly by Chinese artist Zhang Daqian (1899 -- 1983) worth 3.64 million yuan ($536,900). In another case, an official in Zhejiang actually dug an underground room at his home, the size of a classroom, to store his gifts of Chinese celadon, jade sculptures and paintings.

The evil doesn't end, as expected, with a jail sentence or execution. According to a report on, at many auctions of those confiscated artworks – perceived as a deterrent to future violations – some unflinching bidders actually want to use the same artworks to grease other top brass in trade for private gains. Why? “They like it, and the articles must be authentic.”

But in a truly creative bribe conspiracy, gifts are but a tool and needn't be authentic. An antique shop knowingly puts on sale a fake article in the name of a higher-up. A briber knowingly buys it at face value, or even higher. The whole deal is a textbook case on money laundering, wherein its hypocrisy equals none and its unscrupulousness dwarfs all.

Corruption has never been compulsory, and that the bribers are intentionally taking such thoughtful steps to facilitate those grabby placeholders is more appalling than the crime itself. The crafty collusion no doubt seriously imperils watchdogs' muckraking efforts, especially since antiques' authenticity can sometimes be such a contentious issue that suspects in custody could easily deceive inspectors by insisting the gift was but a petty forgery, thus evading just punishment.

(The aforementioned Zhang's painting turned out to be a cheap counterfeit, though in the end Wen still received the death penalty, for other felonies such as rape and protecting gangsters. He was executed on Wednesday in Chongqing.)

To counteract such vicious practices that demoralize public trust and abet dangerous opportunism, government inspectors should expand the nascent assets-declaration campaign, rather than just make it a rubber-stamp show, perusing all properties owned by public officials as well as their close relatives.

In addition, public supervision should be advocated and protection for whistle-blower's safety be systemized. Passive connivance, no longer tolerable, should be wakened to an active boycott. This might seem an impractically tall order, but it shouldn't be if we stay true to ourselves. The first tenet is that, in the name of personal integrity and public welfare, each and every citizen should report corruption regardless of loyalty to any incumbent or party.

Fight for justice against corruption never has been and never will be easy. But, in the end, a corruption-free society would be well worth holding on to our dignity.