Corruption, Sex, & A Harvard Survey That May Stun You

In the spirit of an oft-used colloquialism of the country of my birth this post is a ‘twofer’. Although writers are typically advised to ‘stick to their knitting’ and only address one theme at a time, these two, you may be surprised to learn, go hand in hand in China today.

The first is the frequently repeated observation that President Xi Jinping and his team are very serious about tackling corruption in China and my 2014 prediction that they would soon take the fight to the corporate sector. On December 27, 2014, one day after I published my 2014 prediction scorecard, China Daily published a list of the Top Ten business executives currently under investigation in China.

They are:

1. Chen Zhuolin, Chairman and CEO of Agile Property Holdings
2. Qi Guoqi, CEO of Sealand Securities
3. Song Lin, Chairman of China Resources Group
4. Wang Yujun, President and Executive Director of China Resources Power Holdings
5. Sun Zhaoxue, General Manager of China Aluminum Corp.
6. Jessica He Yan, Chairwoman of Chengdu GoldTel Group
7. Liu Zhanbin, President of Sanjing Pharmaceuticals
8. Wang Shuaiting,, Executive Director & Vice-Chair China Travel Services Hong Kong
9. An Dewu, former Deputy General Manager of FAW, the Chinese partner of Volkswagen AG
10. Hua Bangsong, Chairman of Wilson Engineering Group

In all cases these individuals are rich and powerful and charged with some form of bribery, embezzlement, or financial corruption.

In two cases, however, and here is the twofer, these executives were also charged with adultery or keeping a mistress, an increasingly common charge when it comes to the battle against corruption in China.

It wasn’t that long ago that most Chinese assumed that most men of wealth and power had mistresses. If not de rigueur, it was certainly one of the ultimate symbols of power and wealth. I’ve even heard and read of luxury apartment buildings built specifically to house the mistresses of wealthy Chinese men, complete with discrete parking and entrances.

And while I believe Chinese culture is generally quite conservative when it comes to matters of sex, wealthy Chinese men have had ample access to attractive young women and have taken frequent advantage of the opportunity. In the city of Dongguan, one of the country’s most prosperous industrial centers in the Pearl River Delta of prosperous Guangdong Province, police recently cracked down on the open sex trade, an industry that in that city alone was believed to have employed as many as 300,000 people directly or indirectly and a crackdown which ensnared some of the most prestigious names in the global hotel industry,

So why the change in heart?

I think we can safely conclude that the seven members of the Politburo are not recent converts to the Ten Commandments in any religious sense. There is undoubtedly a moral element to this change, but I believe the underlying driver has to be the indefatigable Chinese quality of pragmatism.

The idea of older wealthy men escorting, dating, marrying pretty but much younger women is not unique to China, of course. It happens the world over. Even in more sexually conservative Western societies such as the United States, the ‘trophy wife’ is a commonly recognized and accepted rite of financial passage. (Maybe accepted is a little strong, depending on who you query.)

Even among the powerful political elite of the U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, and even the White House itself, tales of older men entertaining themselves in the company of much younger women to whom they were not betrothed has become, if not commonplace, commonly accepted. One former president even avoided impeachment once the facts were indisputable, a sign of, in not endorsement, the perception of marginal relevance to the performance of their political duties.

The current leadership of China clearly sees things differently. And while I don’t believe they are consciously attempting to take the moral high ground, they do recognize that such arrangements both undermine the family central to Chinese culture and are powerful symbols of the reality that the rich and powerful do not live in the way that the rest of us do and are often not held to the same standards.

If not a moral crusade, this trend is part of a broader crusade to eliminate abuse and excess in the strictest Marxist sense. It is part of the concerted effort to reconnect the Party with the people and to discredit the previously held perception that the government lorded over the citizenry in relative isolation.

So let me make it a ‘threefer’.

In a recent survey published by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation covering 30 countries, form the United States to Kenya, President Xi Jinping ranked highest among both the Chinese (95% approval) AND among respondents worldwide, a feat even more remarkable given that he was only the fourth most recognized name among world leaders (behind Barack Obama, Vladmir Putin, and David Cameron.)

And despite constant friction between China and the United States on the international front, a remarkable 51% of AMERICANS polled rated Xi favorably on his handling of international affairs.

Of note relative to the U.S.’s ‘pivot to Asia’, Xi ranked very high in Asian and African countries, with the exception of Japan, a key U.S. ally that increasingly finds itself isolated in the region.

One other interesting note. Of the 10 global leaders rated (Xi, Putin, Obama, Cameron, Hollande, Merkel, Abe, Rousseff, Modi, and Zuma), all oversee vastly different political systems and paths to economic development.

The top 3 in terms of domestic support, however, were Xi Jinping of China, Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, and Vladmir Putin of Russia, who lead both the world’s largest democracy and the world’s largest Communist state. What all three have in common, however, in contrast to the leaders of the Western powers, is an intense focus on domestic affairs. While President Putin obviously enjoys tweaking the noses of others on the world stage, his agenda is largely regional and domestic in scope, unlike countries like the United States, Great Britain, France, and other Western powers, which spend considerable time and effort attempting to project their influence globally.

Maybe there’s a ‘fourfer’ in there somewhere.

A culture that has endured for thousands of years cannot have done so on ideals alone.  Honest self-awareness and indefatigiable pragmatism have been key to China's endurance.
A culture that has endured for thousands of years cannot have done so on ideals alone. Honest self-awareness and indefatigiable pragmatism have been key to China’s endurance.

Note: The author also writes novels under the pen name of Avam Hale. You can find them in the Amazon Kindle store and they can be read on any mobile device loaded with the free Kindle App, available for all operating systemsACopyright © 2014 Glassmaker in China

Notice: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity. They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.