Looking at Corruption: China vs. the United States

During National Library Week a few years ago, I attended the Golden Leaves event at Cal Poly Pomona’s University Library. Afterwards, I joined a conversation about China, and one American citizen who had never been to China mentioned the corruption in China and how flawed their legal system was. He was adamant that China had to change and become more democratic. He also said there were a lot of angry people in China who wanted change—how did he know that?

However, there are two sides to every story, and “While the true extent and cost of white-collar crime (in the United States) are unknown, it is estimated to cost the United States more than $300 billion annually, according to the FBI.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Wall Street corruption and greed in America that caused the 2007/08 global financial crises may have led to global losses of at least $15 Trillion.

In addition, a United Nations report says that by the end of 2009, the global increase in jobless persons was 27 million more than in 2007 before the financial crises hit—should we say, “Thank you, America?”

What about China?

The Economist’s View says, “For one thing, the Chinese trust their government more. According to a recent World Values Survey, 96.7 percent of Chinese expressed confidence in their government, compared to only 37.3 percent of Americans.

“Likewise, 83.5 percent of Chinese thought their country is run for all the people, rather than for a few big interest groups, whereas only 36.7 percent of Americans thought the same of their country. With this relatively higher trust, China’s government and enterprises are better able to enact and implement strict policies that promote saving and growth.”

I wonder if all the greed and corruption in China will ever threaten the global economy and cost millions of people jobs.

And what about corruption in India, the democracy next door to China? We seldom if ever hear anyone criticizing India for corruption. However, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranks India as more corrupt than China. In fact, there are 108 countries of 183 listed as more corrupt than China.

Why does the Western media focus so much attention on China when it comes to the topic of corruption while mostly ignoring the 108 countries worse than China? I mean, even Thailand—a staunch US ally—is more corrupt than China, and Mexico is worse than Thailand and India!

Discover China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


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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7 Responses to Looking at Corruption: China vs. the United States

  1. Lloyd,

    Your comparison is very interesting. But, I’m not sure that it gets to the heart of the “corruption” problem. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of “we versus them”, “white versus black” and “bad guy versus good guy”. I often noticed this same tactic being used while I worked and resided and taught in China for 8 years. Whenever it came to comparisons, there were only two – the US and China. While this shows that neither country has won the anti-corruption olympics – it does not give us guidance or where to turn to to find a solution. Why? Because then we would have to focus on and learn from countries that have a very low level of corruption. For example, Scandinavian countries or even Singapore.

    About the issue of censorship – which I have written about and experienced in China,- its useful to talk to someone who has experienced it and knows what it means first hand.. For every Peter Hessler there are thousands such as Ai Wei Wei, Jeremy Goldkorn, Hu Shuli – (exceptional talents) that have been driven out, blocked and in some cases brutalized for their courage in trying to express themselves.

    Censorship is China is not simply “odd” it is paralyzing. In a class I was instructing, the students were given the assignment to write about environmental protection and global warning. Since new data had come out showing that China had become number one in carbon production, I thought that this would be a good learning exercise for the students. Unbelievably, the Government Internet censors had filtered out all the information so that the Chinese students could not access information about global warming and showed 2007 data – they had no idea at the seriousness of the problem and could not access the recen,t accurate data. I brought in my own computer with vpn access and the assignment continued.

    Corruption is like a virus, it spreads dishonesty, mismanagement, graft, moral degeneracy and decline. More pervasive is the society it creates – one where the honest, hard-working and dedicated become the silent majority. If this is the point that you are making in your comparisons – I am in agreement.

    • Thank you. My goal was to show that corruption in not unique to China. In fact, there are few exceptions and many countries are ranked worse than China. India, Thailand and Mexico for example.

      And I think it is a good idea to compare carbon emissions in China to America but to put it into a better format by not forgetting that China had 1.351 billion people in 2012 compared to America’s population of 312.8 million that year.

      According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, China produced 6,534 million metric tons of CO2 or 4.91 tons per/capita. The U.S., on the other hand, produced 5,833 million metric tons or 19.18 tons/capita.

      This means if the U.S. had an equal population to China, America’s CO2 emissions would reach 22,785.5 million metric tons of CO2.

      When we look at CO2 emissions per/capita, only Australia beats America with 20.82 tons per/capita.

      Source: http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/science/each-countrys-share-of-co2.html

      In addition, let’s look closer at where some or most of China’s CO2 emissions come from. “Biomass is often the primary source of household energy in developing countries. Just over three billion people use biomass fuels for cooking and heating in developing countries and approximately 800 million people, mostly in China, use coal.”

      Source: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol95/mono95-6.pdf

      Until China has an alternative to coal to heat homes and cook food, 800 million people in China must depend on that biomass as an energy source. And how fast do you think it will take a country almost the size of the United States with more than four times the population to achieve this goal?

      This report from Bloomberg Businessweek may offer the best answer for that question: “When it comes to tackling China’s many environmental challenges, it’s, alas, much easier to point out flaws in current government approaches than to find sustainable solutions.”

      Source: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-09-30/chinas-synthetic-natural-gas-plants-could-accelerate-climate-change

      Here’s what I think the Chinese should hear. I’m sure most of them want to achieve a similar lifestyle that middle class Americans enjoy—the lifestyle that produces that annual 19.18 tons/capita of CO2. I’m not telling the Chinese to stay in the stone age to avoid producing all that pollution, but they should find innovative ways to achieve America’s middle class consumer lifestyle without the same ratio of CO2 pollution produced in the United States. And that’s not going to be easy since America hasn’t even achieved that yet.

    • I found it interesting how you linked corruption to censorship and supported your opinion by saying, “there are thousands such as Ai Wei Wei, Jeremy Goldkorn, Hu Shuli – (exceptional talents) that have been driven out, blocked and in some cases brutalized for their courage in trying to express themselves. … Censorship is China is not simply “odd” it is paralyzing.”

      I’m sure you think Ai Wei Wei and those others you mention are heroes and what you think is your business but … everything is relative and people considered heroes in one country are often thought of as criminals or fools in another country.

      For example, America’s Founding Fathers would have been hanged as traitors and their names smeared for all of history if they had lost the revolution with the British Empire and for a time it was a very close thing.

      The lack of freedom of expression you refer to when you talk about China’s “paralyzing” censorship is an American cultural and legal issue and not one that applies to China or any other country in the world that doesn’t have the same Constitution and Bill of Rights that the U.S. has. And at one time, Americans understood this and accepted that when you left the U.S. you left your legal rights behind.

      But that mindset started to change after World War II during the Cold War. We even fought the Vietnam War for almost twenty years over ideological, political and religious beliefs and lost that war because Vietnam is still a Communist country and is not dominated by Christianity. But we have no trouble today forming a military alliance with Vietnam due to political issues in Asia.

      The American mindset that would throw itself like a fisherman’s net around the world would become official under President Clinton when promoting America’s concept of freedom and democracy and protecting human rights around the world became central to U.S. foreign policy.

      Source: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/afdr/index.htm

      However, one must question the sincerity of that goal when one compares it to America’s continued support of brutal dictatorships and autocratic governments—for example Saudi Arabia for one—when it comes to the profit driven goals of Wall Street and corporate America.

      Exporting weapons of war and death is a growth industry in America’s private sector, and the U.S. is the leading merchant of death in the world with 44% of the global market. Number two is Russia with 17% of the market. China only has 4% of that business.

      Source: http://www.globalissues.org/article/74/the-arms-trade-is-big-business

      Many of the countries the U.S. sells weapons too are brutal dictatorships and/or autocratic governments with worse human rights records than China. But criticizing China is politically correct in America; misguided and hypocritical.

      I want to end with a question: Are you willing to teach your Chinese students every side of this issue or just what you want them to learn?

      You may be interested in “The Blood Price” @ http://thesoulfulveteran.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/the-blood-price-part-34/

      Let’s not forget that Jesus Christ faced a mob that was eager to execute a woman caught in adultery. He put a stop to it with a simple challenge: anyone who has no sin in their life should step forward and throw the first stone. That sentence is often cited as a reminder to avoid judging others when there are faults in your own life—or your country’s—that need to be addressed. John 8:7

      • Lloyd,

        I think I articulated my point in that you shouldn’t use a two-way prism to view the world – a “we vs they” scenario. The US as well as China have their own problems with graft and corruption. And the comparisons should not just pose one system against the other because you get trapped in the cycle of “tit for tat.” Like a ping pong ball that never leaves the restricted space, the discussion never strays from the constraints of your space or mine.

        Also, I think I responded to your question, “Are you willing to teach your Chinese students every side of this issue or just what you want them to learn?” by doing just that for over 6 years. During that time of instructing students for college, I also worked as a legal expert in a Chinese law firm supporting the development of the legal system so I am aware of what the constitution is.

        To have an informative discussion, you must first strive to talk about facts, and possible solutions I appreciate your references to secondary sources but I also suggest listening to other sources, individuals who are expressing their own first-hand experience and research.

        Again, you are right. Ai Wei Wei, Jeremy Goldkorn, Hu Shuli may not have the respect of all the audience, but they have received world-wide recognition for their achievements and their courage. And then there is another man, Liu Xiaobo, who received recognition by the international community for the Nobel Peace Prize, yet unfortunately sits in solitary confinement because he tried to express himself a little too much.

        A biblical verse from Peter, “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”

      • You said, “And the comparisons should not just pose one system against the other because you get trapped in the cycle of “tit for tat.” Like a ping pong ball that never leaves the restricted space, the discussion never strays from the constraints of your space or mine.”

        But that is exactly what you were doing when you wrote, “Censorship is China is not simply ‘odd’ it is paralyzing,” because this is a value judgment based on comparing American/Western values with those that exist in China. In America, for example, the government doesn’t censor opinions or facts—unless they have been tagged as secret or top secret and then you can go to jail for exposing that information.

        How has this censorship paralyzed China? I think China’s attempt at censorship is a joke. My wife’s books are censored in China, but she has discovered black-market translations in Mandarin being sold in China and in even state-owned bookstores, English versions of her work are sold there. And in China’s public schools learning to read and speak English is mandatory. What kind of censorship is that?

        Western TV programs that are censored in China often find a way in on DVDs and are then pirated and sold on the black market with an audience in the hundreds of millions.

        Fifty to eighty million Chinese leave China annually as tourists and travel to other countries often being exposed to Western ideas.

        More Chinese come to America and Europe as foreign students to attend college than from any other country. A report on September 8, 2013 said that about 25% of the 760,000 international students studying in American colleges and universities are from China being exposed to Western ideas. And many American/Western teachers work in China teaching as you do and you don’t think that those people are not exposing Chinese to Western values. Tom Carter mentioned in “Unsavory Elements”—a book of nonfiction short pieces he edited—that there are about a million expatriates in China.

        This is what I think the CCP’s efforts at censorship are for: to slow the transition of China’s culture to whatever it is becoming, so it doesn’t implode and turn out like India or worse. If the CCP really wanted to control the thinking of the Chinese people and censor any information that they feel would be unacceptable, then there would be no Chinese tourists flooding the world; hundreds of thousands of Chinese students attending colleges in the United States; Western teachers teaching in Chinese schools, and China rebuilding its public school systems so the children develop critical thinking and problem solving skills and there would be no Baidu. The 2009 PISA test was conducted in Shanghai with a large number of 15 year olds and they scored higher than any other students in the world in every category and this test also tests for critical thinking and problem solving skills.

        It is obvious to me that the CCP is allowing the Chinese to learn how to think for themselves but at a controlled pace—or at least an attempt at a controlled pace. If they were not doing this, you wouldn’t be in China teaching what you teach.

        I refuse to judge one country for corruption without pointing out that corruption exists everywhere in the world in some form or another. And in Asia and the Middle East corruption in business and government has been part of those cultures for thousands of years.

        Also—before we criticize a country, for example China, for not being a democracy offering the same freedoms and legal protections that exist in the United States today—-we may want to pay attention to America’s Founding Fathers who despised democracy and created a country that was a plutocracy.

        When the United States was founded, in most states, only white men with real property (land) or sufficient wealth for taxation were permitted to vote. Freed slaves could vote in four states. Unpropertied white men, women, and all other people of color were denied the franchise.

        To quote The Federalist, on democracies: “it may be concluded that a pure democracy…can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction…[as] there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

        In fact, the American republic that Sun Yat-sen was introduced to in Hawaii in the late 19th century and then wanted to export to China was nothing like the democracy in America of today. And even then, Sun Yat-sen said China’s republic would have to fit China’s culture.

        And for the US 1st Amendment—that so-called paradigm of the freedom of expression—it was even limited. For example, Censorship in America.com says, “For much of the nation’s history, the First Amendment was not held to apply to states and municipalities. Entities without any prohibition in their own charters were free to censor newspaper, magazines books, plays, movies, comedy shows and so on. Many did, as exemplified by the phrase banned in Boston.”

        It wasn’t until the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren [he served as Chief Justice 1953 – 1969] that the 1st Amendment was extended to local government—with no mention that freedom of expression in the private sector was protected by the U.S. Constitution.

        There is one more comparison I’m going to make:

        The United States has almost 317 million people and 2,193,798 of those people are serving time in prisons. That’s 737 per 100,000.

        China, by comparison, has 1,360,310,000 people but only has 1,548,498 locked up in prison. That’s 118 per 100,000.

        Ranking the world’s nations by total prison populations, the US is number one and China number two.

        Taking just that one comparison, what does it tell us about the culture of each country?

  2. kikathree@aol.com says:


    Wow! The statistics you quoted definitely paints a vivid picture of the severe corruption that takes place in the U.S. I had never thought about how the financial melt-down of 2007-08 caused people on a global scale to lose 15 trillion dollars. I only thought of the melt-down affecting Americans. I forgot about how our global economy and how much the actions of the U.S. affect the rest of the world.

    You certainly made good points; also, I was surprised about how high the Chinese rate their government. The Chinese government definitely gets much higher ratings than the U.S. government does. The only question I have about the Chinese ratings is was the survey in China conducted by the Chinese government or by an outside source? In the U.S., surveys about the government are conducted by outside sources that are not influenced by the government.

    Take care.


    • I’d have to check to see who exactly conducted that rating in China but I think it was an international organization based in Europe that rates all countries on a similar scale.

      Contrary to popular opinion in the United States, there are a number of non-profit, fact-gathering Western groups operating in China gathering information by conducting polls similar to how they are conducted in the US—by asking a segment of the population questions. I’ve read polls conducted in China by Gallup and PEW using the same methods they use in the West.

      For example, Green Peace—mostly treated as if they are an outlaw group in the West—was invited into China by the CCP to help them find ways to gain control over the run-away pollution of the environment as the middle class in China grows and consumes similar to how US consumers live.

      What these groups report about China may not be reported in China’s state-owned media but that information is usually available on-line globally and anyone in China who wants to access info outside of China can find a proxy server that isn’t blocked by China’s censors.

      Censorship in China is odd. For example, you can visit bookstores in China and find English language books that are banned in China but banned only in Mandarin. And learning how to read and speak English is mandatory in China’s public schools. It makes no sense to ban a book from being printed in the Mandarin language but allow the same book to be sold if it is published in English when most Chinese under the age of thirty learned to read English in school. And who teaches most of the English in the schools? American, British, Australian, New Zealand and Canadian expatriates who go to China to teach English because China doesn’t have enough qualified English teachers to teach that language.

      have you ever read Peter Hessler’s memoir “Country Driving”? He worked in China as a reporter for one of America’s major media outlets and drove all over the place ignoring China’s laws to restrict such travel and then ended up writing about it in “Country Driving.”

      Here’s a link to my review of this book: http://ilookchina.net/2012/05/28/country-driving-in-china-with-peter-hessler-part-12/

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