China is the world’s most populous country, with 1.3 billion people, yet it’s one of the most secretive and despite a massive government campaign to root out corruption, controversy still exists.
Many high profile politicians, businessmen, and officials have been detained, but what has this achieved?Businessman Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of acquisitive Chinese insurer Anbang, was detained back in June after reportedly getting caught up in this ongoing corruption crackdown.
Xiaohui is reportedly worth over $1 billion and is one of China’s most influential figures.China very rarely makes the British news, and if it does, it’s often regarding their growing GDP or stock prices, but after my recent visit, I was amazed at the tight control that the Government has over the majority of their people.
This was first brought to my attention on my second day in Beijing whilst I was trying to find Tiananmen Square. As I stared at my map and looked at the signs in Chinese, a middle-aged man approached me and asked me where I was looking for. As he kindly offered to take me to Tiananmen Square we started to talk. He introduced himself as Hui, a doctor from Shanghai.In Beijing, the majority of places with heavy foot traffic aren’t accessible without your bags being searched and as I spent longer in the country, it started to become evident that the working classes were checked a lot more rigorously. Hui explained that they don’t really search white people. He explained: “They are looking for terrorists. Isis? With brown skin and a beard.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
The anti-corruption campaign has been wildly popular with the masses but much less so among the military and civilian bureaucrats. But Beijing’s claims of ‘huge progress’, which has apparently seen more than one million officials being punished for crimes such as bribery and abuse of power, are clearly overblown.
According to the Financial Times, Businesspeople have complained that their bribery costs have actually risen along with greater risks facing corrupt officials, many of whom demand backhanders paid in foreign currency directly into offshore bank accounts.As we wandered around Tiananmen Square, Hui started to tell me about China, its history, and its culture. He told me about the history of the square but didn’t include the 1989 massacre that left an unknown number dead, with many estimates in the thousands and stopped a democratic movement.
As we talked for longer I started to ask him about the government and why social media and Google were banned. He said that because of the growing terrorism threat, they banned it. But is the truth? Was Hui aware of the 1989 massacre? The Chinese Internet has been completely wiped of all recollection except the official ones and the Chinese government arrested dozens of people back in 2014 for arranging events related to the anniversary.So is the terrorism threat just a cover up by the Chinese government to keep control of its people? As China’s economy develops further, its inhabitants are having more exposure to the outside world and their general curiosity is leading to a lack of control for the government.
Recently the reinvigorated enforcement of an existing law has led to Apple withdrawing a number of apps from the App Store which allowed users to browse the internet over a virtual private network but guests at some of China’s most luxurious hotels can enjoy access to social media platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter.I went on to ask him about the crime in China; he leaned over and said: “The only criminals are the government. There is no mafia in China, only the communist party.”
When I asked him about the death penalty, he said: “Not so much,” before whispering: “Corruption is a big problem in China.” It is believed that the country execute thousands year on year, most of which are related to political offences, but no official number has been recorded.I guess for the time being we will never know the truth about what really happens in China, but the impression I got was that the majority of China’s 1.3 billion people live in fear.
On our way to the subway, he stopped to do the lottery at a corner shop. I asked him how much they win if their numbers come up, he said 5-10 million yuan which is roughly £575,000-£1,150,000. He then turned to me and said: “Do you think anyone actually wins?” so I explained the system in the UK and how the winners are often shown on the television or in the newspaper. He said in China it is announced that someone has won, but their name is never revealed. “Do you think it’s a scam?” he asked, I just looked and smiled.
After exchanging emails and a brief goodbye, we both went our separate ways but it was an eye-opening experience, to say the least.