Sunday, July 3, 2011
Bribery is a big problem in China. One question that often arises is whether it's supply-driven or demand-driven: do private citizens tempt otherwise incorrupt officials, or do corrupt officials force citizens to pay bribes? (As far as lawyers and judges are concerned, I get mixed responses from people when I ask their views.) If it's the latter, we might expect citizens forced to pay bribes to be unhappy about it, even to expose the bribe-taking official. And we might expect the government to welcome such exposures. But we would be wrong, at least as to the latter point.
Inspired by the Indian web site ipaidabribe.com, three web sites (www.woxinghuile.info, www.522phone.com, and www.ibribery.com) recently sprang up in China dedicated to the exposure of corruption. Citizens could post their own stories of bribe-giving. But last month an official of the Beijing Municipal Procuratorate announced that, while citizens' enthusiasm in combating corruption was of course welcomed (of course!), such sites were illegal. (He did not state which part of which law they violated.) "All citizens should have faith the procuratorial organs; the struggle against corruption must proceed within a legal environment. One can't say that just any citizen or organization can engage in this kind of activity; that would not be serious." (全体公民应相信检察机关，与腐败作斗争必须在法制环境内进行，不能说任何一个公民或组织就能从事这样的活动，这是不严肃的。) The offending web sites have since disappeared.
The Chinese state has historically been suspicious of subjects citizens getting directly involved in governance; I've written elsewhere about the dim prospects for private-attorney-general-like enforcement mechanisms. This is another example of this "trust us" attitude. Interestingly, the state is willing to allow a modest amount of citizen participation via administrative litigation in order to help the center exert better control over local governments, but such litigation has little potential to involve really explosive stuff, such as the naming of names of individual officials, possibly at a high level, involved in corruption. (An excellent article on what administrative litigation in China is and isn't about is He Xin, ‘Administrative Law as a Mechanism for Political Control in Contemporary China’ in Stephanie Balme and Michael Dowdle (eds) Building Constitutionalism in China (Palgrave Macmillan 2009) 143-161.)