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Rooting Out Corruption In China

Elaine Wan

It has been about two weeks since I woke up on the morning of Wednesday, April 13 to find secret agents patrolling the entrance of McCormick Hall. That day I walked along the Charles River, amidst bright red Chinese flags and balloons, and squirmed past Massachusetts and Campus Police. I heard Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji speak on world trade in Kresge Auditorium and since then have read the many responses to his suggestions vis-a-vis trade relations between China and the United States. For the past two weeks, members of the MIT community have addressed the need for human rights in China and concern for Zhu’s proposals, but no one has addressed the needs of the Chinese people and the actions Americans should take to promote human rights in China.

I am a Chinese American. I was born and raised in a society whose members respected people of any sex, race, religion or culture. I was taught to cherish and make use of my right to express my views and thoughts. As a country of democracy, the United States must spread freedom to all corners of the world, but her citizens must also understand the needs of the people from other countries before we take action.

The Chinese Premier’s visit was a great opportunity for me to understand the political and financial concerns of China through the words of a man who has earned the respect of the Chinese people, members of his party, President Clinton, and the media. Zhu has presented himself during his trip to America as an open-minded and charismatic member of the Communist Party who could joke about espionage, throw a football, and still focus on his agenda: to promote the inclusion of China into the World Trade Organization. Zhu has also publicly recognized the need for human rights in China. However, the question still remains. Will China increase the rights of its citizens?

China’s leaders began an experiment of holding elections at the village level in 1987. It was then predicted that it would be fifty years before China held nationwide elections. However, the massacre in Tiananmen Square and the imprisonment of Chinese human rights advocates has dimmed a future of freedom in China. Although democracy in China is the first priority for Americans interested in developing Sino-American ties, very few are aware that the number one complaint of the Chinese is corruption, according to The New York Times [“All This Corruption,” March 11, 1999]

“Westerners often decry human rights conditions in China, citing political restrictions on writers and intellectuals in the large cities. But for hundreds of millions of ordinary Chinese who live in towns and villages, it is the unrestrained authority of a local party chief that is usually most oppressive,” the article says. Public opinion surveys in China have found that many villagers are aware that a few thousand U.S. dollars can buy one a position as a Chinese government official. It is these officials who prevent the Chinese from expressing their ideas and choosing their own leaders. These officials cruise their territory and demand cuts of the profits from the most prosperous local businesses. It is these officials who claim that the Chinese citizens should not be able to vote because most of them are illiterate. But it is President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji who have publicly declared their commitment to eradicate such corruption. This is why Zhu has gained respect among his people.

Although Zhu has not proposed direct changes in China’s current government system, he has recognized the problems on the minds of the Chinese people. Zhu has gained popularity among the Chinese newspapers for his famed quote, “In order to eradicate corruption, I would have to prepare ten coffins. Nine coffins will be for the corrupters but the last one may be for myself.” An anti-corruption campaign is extremely treacherous because the current corruption network is composed of military officials, construction companies and other government officials.

We should support an anti-corruption campaign in China. In order to restore rights to the Chinese, it is necessary to bring awareness to those villagers and those in rural China who readily accept the absence of political voice. It is necessary to educate those who are illiterate, so that they can compare their lives with those of people in countries with human rights. There must be economic development to promote education so that educated Chinese can make demands and changes from their leaders which will eventually expand the rights of the Chinese and fortify Sino-American relations.