China's struggle against corruption reached new levels last week
as the country executed one senior official and trials got under way
in another major case.
On Thursday, Cheng Kejie, former vice chairman of the National
People's Congress, was executed. Cheng was accused of amassing more
than $5 million through corruption.
The People's Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, said the case
"shows that corrupt elements have nowhere to hide, [and] before the
law, all citizens are equal." Yet academics, legal experts, and even
some critics within the party are skeptical that the current
anticorruption campaign has the power to cleanse the government.
"No matter how high-profile the case, no matter how serious the
punishment, they won't be able to do anything about corruption until
they begin to introduce institutional reforms," says Merle Goldman,
a professor of contemporary Chinese history at Boston University.
China must establish "some kind of electoral accountability,
freedom of the press, and an opposition party - reforms that would
ensure a system of checks and balances ... the kind of reforms that
we associate with democracy," says Dr. Goldman.
The Communist Party, though, is trying hard to prove that it can
contain corruption without compromising its grasp on power. Although
the president and other officials increasingly proclaim the merits
of the rule of law, there is never any doubt that the party - along
with the politics that justify it - comes first.
The anticorruption drive fits squarely in the mold of all
centrally planned political campaigns: It makes liberal use of
propaganda to rally support for its cause, pick its targets, and
control the debate, thereby legitimizing party leadership with each
Aside from the routine exposures of low-level corruption and the
occasional toppling of a senior official, the most conspicuous
aspects of the anticorruption drive are exhibitions in major cities
detailing the ignominious downfalls of hundreds of corrupt cadres -
and a new movie called "Life or Death Decision."
The film, which first appeared in Beijing in mid-August, and is
now required viewing for all party members, tells the story of the
upstanding mayor of a fictional city who unravels a web of
corruption, only to find that it implicates his own mentor and
benefactor and even his wife. He makes the right "decision" and
sends them all to jail, though tellingly only with the support of an
even more senior party official.
By most accounts the movie is a success in its own right. …