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When Rumors Come True
Summary:The "victory of the common people" is not about one individual bringing down one high-level official, but about setting up a system that does away with the current situation in which officials are strong and people are weak.

By Qi Yue (启越)
Issue 620, May 20, 2013
Nation, page 15
Translated by Zhang Xiaoxi
Original article: [Chinese]

The "rumors" have once again turned out to be true.

Earlier this month anti-corruption investigators in China announced that Liu Tienan (刘铁男), the former Director of the National Energy Administration and a Deputy Director of the country's top economic planning agency, was suspected of "serious violations of discipline."

In December 2012, Luo Changping (罗昌平), the Deputy Managing Editor of Caijing Magazine, posted three updates to his Sina Weibo account each alleging that Liu Tienan had misrepresented his academic qualifications and was involved in improper dealings with business associates.

It's rare for an individual to come out and make such public allegations against a ministerial-level official in China and a heated public discussion ensued.

A representative of the press office of the National Energy Administration came out and denied the reports, labeling them as pure rumor.

The press official went on to say that "we are currently in the process of contacting the department in charge of internet management and the Public Security Bureau about the case and we're also informing the police. We will use formal legal procedures to deal with this matter."

Should we believe a citizen or an official announcement? The answer is now clear.

We still don't know the details of what exaclty brought Liu Tienan down or all the facts of the matter, but in present day China, where officialdom is strong and the people weak, for a high-level official to be investigated after being publicly accused of malfeasance is a rare victory.

In recent years, online allegations of corruption have flourished - from the Lei Zhengfu (雷政富), the "star" of Chongqing's sex-tape scandal, to Shanxi's famous "watch brother" (表哥) and all the various "house uncles" (房叔) in between, suddenly, the internet has come to be regarded as an avenue by which ordinary people can fight corruption.

According to this narrative, Liu Tienan's fall from grace is being interpreted as a "victory for the common people."

I think we should remain cautiously optimistic about such interpretations.

In fact, the current online anti-corruption drive is really just a stop-gap measure. On the one hand, people are extremely frustrated with official corruption and want to be involved in punishing those who do wrong and praising those who are upright. On the other hand, the Chinese system of reporting corruption is flawed, and it's difficult for public opinion to be successfully conveyed to the departments involved in investigating corruption.

Therefore, the only avenue left open is to make things public through the internet so that it becomes a focus of attention and thus forces the government to investigate.

No matter the results of making public allegations online, if we use this method, the person blowing the whistle faces certain risks. Firstly, the allegations can in no way have any flaws, otherwise the person could be accused of slander. Examples of this are common. Secondly, the person making the allegations is put under a lot of pressure. Luo Changping himself said that he felt "challenged and desperate" during the process of publicly outing Liu Tienan.

To put it briefly, heros are rare and informers could in the blink of an eye become "martyrs."  

I think the model of relying on individuals to expose corruption via the internet is not what we've been holding out for.

The "victory of the common people" is not about one individual bringing down one high-level official, but about setting up a system that does away with the current situation in which officials are strong and people are weak.  In this way our efforts to fight corruption will be more effective.

The first step to change the system is to change officialdom. After Luo reported Liu's case online, the information office of the National Energy Administration said Luo's report was rumor and tried to use the departments in charge of internet management and the Public Security Bureau to threaten Luo.

In fact, this wasn't your standard official response but a naked attempt to use public power to intimidate someone.

One of the characteristics of some government departments is to use public power to excuse officials.

For example, if someone asks question about the background of a certain young official that has been speedily promoted, related departments will jump out and declare that there is no problem with the official. In the end, it sometimes there are problems.

It is this kind of bureaucracy that hurts the credibility of government.

"The Chinese Dream" (中国梦) has become a hot topic these days. What is this Chinese dream? From the perspective of anti-corruption, I think there should be neutral judicial and administrative power, allowing common people to report officials with proof and for officials to respond with proof. Officials won't be able to abuse their power to shut down investigations.

We should establish a complete system instead of relying on occasional "victories of the common people."

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