News / Asia

China Trying to Manage Exposure of Corruption Online

Various Chinese microblog websites are seen on a screen in this photo illustration taken in Beijing, Sep. 13, 2011.
Various Chinese microblog websites are seen on a screen in this photo illustration taken in Beijing, Sep. 13, 2011.
Reuters
China's Internet is brimming with disclosures of officials collecting bribes, homes and luxury accessories as casually as they do mistresses.
 
But while the government tolerates such anti-corruption vigilantism, it is also extremely leery of the threat the Internet can pose to Communist Party rule.
 
The Internet is the new tool in the fight against corruption - a cornerstone policy of new President Xi Jinping, who has pledged to tackle the problem head-on.
 
But while acknowledging that China's online world is helpful, authorities have also moved quickly to quash rumors that might fan protests that could escalate out of control, deleting microblog posts or even entire accounts.
 
The accounts of two people who spread potentially panic-inducing rumors of bird flu breaking out in Guizhou province were erased, according to the China Daily newspaper.
 
He Bing, vice president of the law school at China University of Political Science and Law, told media that his Twitter-like microblog, or “weibo”, was closed down after he forwarded what turned out to be a rumor of a student killing an Internet enforcement officer who had suspended his account.
 
Author Murong Xuecun, an outspoken censorship critic, said his four weibo accounts, with 8.5 million combined followers, were deleted after he posted criticism of restrictions on what university teachers can discuss with students.
 
China unveiled tighter Internet controls in December, legalizing the deletion of posts and accounts, underscoring the government's desire to muzzle online debate.
 
Those convicted of spreading rumors and false reports can be jailed for up to 10 years.
 
China has more than a half-billion Internet users, and the  great popularity of weibo has spawned a legion of corruption watchdogs whose posts can circulate among millions.
 
“Citizens have readily transitioned from being extremely reluctant to voice their views to being extremely competitive about trying to get their views out there and to gain followers,” said Ken Lieberthal of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

 Punished for posting
 
But protests could threaten stability and the disciplinary apparatus has moved quickly to squelch hearsay.
 
Police this month detained a 28-year-old Beijing woman for posting that another woman, 22, was gang-raped and thrown off a building to her death and that police refused to investigate.
 
Police said the victim committed suicide, but were alarmed when hundreds protested against her death, demanding an inquiry.
 
Also this month, four people in Xinjiang province in China's northwest were given five days' detention for spreading rumors about a murder that police say never happened.
 
The latest bureaucrat to fall from grace thanks to the Internet was Liu Tienan, sacked last week as deputy chief of the National Development and Reform Commission.
 
Liu was accused by a journalist in microblog posts of helping to defraud banks of $200 million and of threatening to kill his mistress who reportedly balked at the scheme.
 
Media fanfare about Liu's downfall “suggested the ruling party welcomes netizens to join the anti-corruption campaign”, Zhou Shuzhen, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing told the state news agency Xinhua.
 
The Internet has snared numerous victims.
 
An official in Shanxi province was dubbed “watch brother” after cybersleuths posted photos of him wearing luxury timepieces. A deputy bank manager became known online as “house sister” for buying 20 properties in northwest China worth some $160 million and more than 40 in Beijing.
 
One of the most notorious cases burst into public view last November, with video posted online of Lei Zhengfu, a squat and now-former apparatchik in Chongqing, having sex with an 18-year-old mistress.
 
Yet another official, ex-chief of the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau, Yi Junqing, was sacked in January when his mistress posted details of their affair.
 
“These days the government can't ignore this kind of social pressure because it faces increasing questions of its own legitimacy,” says Li Datong, a former journalist who lost his job for challenging censorship.
 
But while Xi has pledged to hunt down corrupt “flies” as well as “tigers”, referring to low- and high-ranking officials, the public is still waiting for a big catch.
 
“We have some pretty large-size flies, but no small tigers,” said Minxin Pei of Claremont McKenna College in the United States. “The next test case will be to see whether the government will allow a minister's wrong deeds to be exposed, and then to go after him.”
 
The saga of Bo Xilai, a Politburo member drummed out of the party and arrested for corruption and whose wife was convicted last year of the murder of a British businessman, occurred before Xi became president and party chief.
 
China's ultimate rulers, the seven members of the Communist Party Politburo's Standing Committee, are “off limits” for corruption probes, Pei said.
 
The government responded with fury when the New York Times reported in October that relatives and associates of then-premier and Standing Committee member Wen Jiabao had secretly accumulated at least $2.7 billion in assets.
 
The Times' website has remained blocked in China since then.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More