The Guest Room

A Hong Kong blog that does a lot more than blog

New China Hand: Suicide is Painless


Steering away from the Occupy movement this week, the big political earthquake in Mainland China recently has been Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption movement.

Encouragingly, the president is following through with his promises to attack ‘tigers’ as well as ‘flies’ and some big party names have been under the spotlight recently. Anecdotal evidence obtained by NCH revealed a climate of fear among local officials who, under the ‘Shengguan’ detention system, could find themselves accused, arrested and imprisoned in a very short time, leading to a long period away from their former lives.

Even relatively small towns are seeing hundreds of such detainees, perhaps revealing not only the seriousness of the campaign, but also the endemic nature of corruption in many areas of Chinese life.

A number of side effects have been observed. The swankiest dining venues seem to be struggling for business, some even closing their doors as officials reel in hospitality spending.

Another, more disturbing trend has also come to light recently: a spate of suicides among government officials, especially those under investigation. The best available figures indicate that the suicide rate among mid- to top-level officials is 30% higher than the equivalent urban suicide rate.

One China Daily editorial even called for this ‘loophole’ to be closed. Investigations into corrupt officials end with their death, leaving any ill-gotten gains for their family to inherit.

I think everyone would like to see a clean China and a level playing field for all, but we have to be careful about the means and the price. A recent survey in Hong Kong found that rule of law was the most important value to most people. Corrupt officials are products of a culture of corruption. By ensuring everyone is treated equally beneath the law, a new culture can be built up in its place.

This requires time and patience. One thing’s for sure: for the time being at least, the ‘good old days’ are over. It’s the same old question that’s been on our lips for weeks, though: what comes next?

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