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A Look At How China's Anti-Corruption Campaign Has Affected Ordinary Citizens


For more on Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign and how it ties into so-called Xi Jinping thought, I called on Minxin Pei. He's a professor at Claremont McKenna College and is the author of the book "China's Crony Capitalism: The Dynamics Of Regime Decay." Pei says the crackdown on corruption has had a positive impact on the lives of ordinary people. Chinese officials are now afraid to ask for bribes, or at least they're doing it more covertly. But Pei says it's not an outright win. He says Chinese officials are infinitely adaptive.

MINXIN PEI: So the campaign launched by Xi Jinping five years ago has scored some success. But based on my reading of recently reviewed cases, it is also quite clear that Chinese officials are adapting. One example I will give is that Xi Jinping has banned Chinese officials from attending luxurious banquets in private clubs. So private clubs in urban centers have shut up. But a lot of private clubs have emerged in suburban areas. So officials will go there at night so they will not be seen.

SIEGEL: But what are examples of corruption that an ordinary Chinese person might encounter in everyday life that Americans would not?

PEI: I'll give you two examples that will show the direct impact of corruption in China because corruption is related to shortage of supplies of certain services or goods. China's medical facilities are very crowded - the good ones. So if someone who gets sick wants to see a really good doctor at a good facility, then they have to pay a bribe.

Another area where they have to pay bribe would be trying to get into good schools because principals have a lot of power. So if they pay a principal some money, they can get a spot. But the other area where they do become victims of corruption would be environmental pollution, paying very high prices for housing. That's because a local government got into some kind of deal with a shady businessman and, as a result, housing prices have gone up - or unsafe food.

SIEGEL: People might be bribing officials to get past regulations.

PEI: Yes. If you are producing food that is substandard but you bribe the local food inspector so that he will stamp your food product as OK, as a result, unsafe food flows into the supply chain. And then people suffer from the effects.

SIEGEL: Well, if all of this is common to daily life in China, does Xi Jinping get some credit for improving all of this and making bribes less common in everyday life?

PEI: Oh, definitely. I think one of Xi Jinping's strategies, ironically, is not that dissimilar from Donald Trump's. He's draining the swamp. And he's drained quite a bit of swamp at least in the short term. So he has gained quite a bit of public support for making Chinese officials at least less overtly corrupt.

SIEGEL: As I said earlier Xi Jinping's thinking has now been implanted in the Chinese party's constitution. Is this opposition to corruption central to the thinking of the Chinese leader?

PEI: Oh, absolutely. I think he views - genuinely views corruption as a threat to the Communist Party. But also he views corruption as a strategic opportunity for him to acquire power. So without using the anti-corrupt campaign to acquire power to get rid of his enemies, he could not have amassed so much power today.

SIEGEL: But I can identify some animating ideas in Mao Zedong adopting communism to the Chinese peasantry, Deng Xiaoping pragmatically embracing capitalism to achieve growth. Is there some core idea like that that's at the center of Xi Jinping's thinking?

PEI: Yeah. There are some core ideas, but they are not necessarily coherent. One is a form of very hard authoritarian rule - no domestic dissent. The other is centralized power within the Chinese Communist Party. And a certain element is Chinese nationalism and a much greater role for China on the global stage. He's obviously playing this game very, very cleverly.

SIEGEL: Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, thanks for talking with us once again.

PEI: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF AUTOGRAF'S "SLOW BURN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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