Corruption in China may often stem from Cultural Pressure

I’m thinking about what motivated the CEO of Enron and others to steal from their employees and stockholders so they could party, live in mansions and travel as if they were members of the jet set.

In America, there is a history of insider trading, securities and commodities fraud, corporate fraud, health care fraud, antitrust violations, bribery, embezzlement and organized crime.

In fact, the FBI estimates that white-collar crime costs the US more than $300 billion annually.

In China that would be more than 2 trillion yuan.

Western civilization is based on individualism so the primary motivation of those white-collar criminals would probably be individual greed.

However, in Chinese culture, the motivation to become corrupt may not be just from greed.  The American media appears obsessed over corruption in China without addressing how culture plays a role.

In rural China, the peasant, who works the fields, probably is only motivated to grow enough food so his family will not starve while selling enough to keep a roof over their heads.

Most peasants live according to the concept of Taoism, which roughly interpreted means go with the natural order of things or do as little as possible to survive while living in a passive state.

Confucianism teaches the opposite and has more influence in urban China where most of China’s middle class lives and works. Here, loss of face is enough to motivate the individual to become corrupt so he will not look like a loser in the minds of his family, associates or friends. The other choice is suicide.

Since Jesus Christ supposedly said, “Let he who has no guilt cast the first stone”, I want to mention that I read about representatives in both houses of Congress in Washington DC costing the US taxpayer about a million annually for moral corruption. Why—to settle with abused congressional employees, who have been harassed (I’m thinking sexual) or treated badly by their political bosses over the past 14 years. Source: Politico

Back to corruption in Taiwan and China.

The Economist reportedthat corruption flourishes in Taiwan in the judicial system.  The same piece also says that Chen Shui-bian, the former president of Taiwan from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), is serving a 20 year sentence for corruption.  On the next page of the July 24th issue is another piece about academic fraud in (mainland) China.

Although greed may play a role in Chinese corruption, another factor may be a more powerful force and that is maintaining, “face” or increasing it since upwardly mobile Chinese are expected to constantly gain face.

To do this, one has to gain in wealth, stature or reputation. This puts a lot of pressure on a Chinese man, which reminds me of the Taiwanese architect our daughter found hanging dead in a tree a few years back during a family hike in Southern California.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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5 Responses to Corruption in China may often stem from Cultural Pressure

  1. As someone who has lived and worked in both cultures, I don’t think it’s merely a question of gaining or losing face. The question should look toward whether there are any counterbalancing cultural elements that provide a balance. For example, does the culture reward honesty and integrity or offer positive reinforcement for being a “model” citizen. The American culture gives recognition for honesty and integrity to the model citizen. Does the same occur in China? Although there are awards granted for being a good Chinese citizen, if you research below the surface many comments arise about the legitimacy of these awards and I have even seen individuals highlighted who later came under investigation and were imprisoned after “earning” these awards. Something to think about!

  2. tanner boyle says:

    Looking forward to the Ministry of State Security’s report on the cost of corruption in China.

  3. […] in the US, the FBI estimates that that white-collar crime costs the US more than $300 billion […]

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