Skip to main content Accessibility help

Structural Changes in Chinese Corruption

  • Kilkon Ko (a1) and Cuifen Weng (a2)

Given the rapid economic and administrative evolution that China has undergone during the last three decades, it is likely that corruption in China has been directly and indirectly affected by the changes that have taken place. However, the existing literature pays little attention to the impact of such changes on Chinese corruption, while emphasizing the seriousness of corruption. This article reviews how the major causes of Chinese corruption in the reform era have been alleviated in the 2000s. Some of the recent changes include the progress of the market economy, the advent of a merit-based civil service system, improvement of the budgeting and auditing system, fiscal recentralization and better monitoring of local governments' activities, and progress in anti-corruption regulation and enforcement. Consequently, we hypothesize that changes in the causes of corruption have led to structural changes in Chinese corruption. Our empirical analyses reveal that administrative reform has resulted in a decrease in the number of corruption cases related to the internal administrative process (embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds). At the same time, we also observe the aggravation of bribery. This suggests that Chinese corruption has made a transition from being an administrative issue to being a private–public transactional problem.

Corresponding author
Email: (corresponding author)
Hide All
Bergsten, C. Fred, Freeman, Charles F., Lardy, Nicholas R. and Mitchell, Derek J.. 2008. “Corruption in China: crisis or constant?” In Bergsten, C. Fred, Lardy, Nicholas R. and Mitchell, Derek J. (eds.), China's Rise: Challenges and Opportunities. Washington, DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 91104.
Berkley, George E. and Rouse, John E.. 2010. The Craft of Public Administration (10th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Burns, John P. 1993. “China's administrative reforms for a market economy.” Public Administration and Development 13 (4), 354–56.
CCDI and Ministry of Supervision (eds.). 2005. Dangfeng lianzheng he fanfubai xianxing fagui zhidu quanshu (Pandect of Current Anti-Corruption Laws and Regulations). Beijing: Zhongguo fangzheng Press.
Deng, Xiaogang, Zhang, Lening and Leverentz, Andrea. 2010. “Official corruption during China's economic transition: historical patterns, characteristics, and government reactions.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 26 (1), 7288.
Gong, Ting. 1993. “Corruption and reform in China: an analysis of unintended consequences.” Crime, Law and Social Change 19 (4), 311–27.
Gong, Ting. 2006. “Corruption and local governance: the double identity of Chinese local governments in market reform.” The Pacific Review 19, 85102.
Guo, Yong. 2006. National Integrity System – Transparency International Country Study Report: China 2006. Berlin: Transparency International.
Guo, Yong. 2008. “Corruption in transitional China: an empirical analysis.” The China Quarterly 194, 349–64.
Han, Jie. 2007. “Zhongguo gonggong yusuan gaige luxiantu riqu qingxi” (“China's route map for public budgeting reform is getting clearer”), Xinhua Net. Accessed 18 October 2010.
Hao, Y. and Johnston, M.. 1995. “China's surge of corruption.” Journal of Democracy 6 (4), 8095.
He, Qinglian (ed.). 2004. On Systemic Corruption in China and Its Influence. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
He, Zengke. 2000. “Corruption and anti-corruption in reform China.” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 33 (2), 243–70.
Hu, Angang. 2001. Zhongguo: tiaozhan fubai (China: Fighting against Corruption). Hangzhou: Zhejiang People's Press.
Huang, W. 1999. The Lost Dignity: A Memo on Anticorruption. Beijing: World Knowledge Press.
Ko, Kilkon and Weng, Cuifen. 2011. “Critical review of conceptual definitions of Chinese corruption: a formal-legal perspective.” Journal of Contemporary China 20 (70), 359–78.
Ko, Kilkon and Han, Lulu. Forthcoming. “An empirical study on public service motivation of the next generation civil servants in China.” Public Personnel Management.
Kwong, J. 1997. The Political Economy of Corruption in China. New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc.
Landry, Pierre F. 2008. Decentralized Authoritarianism in China: the Communist Party's Control of Local Elites in the Post-Mao Era. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lan, Z. 1999. “The 1998 administrative reform in China: issues, challenges, and prospects.” Asian Journal of Public Administration 21 (1), 2954.
Legal Daily . 2009. “The Supreme People's Procuratorate has received over ten thousand citizen tips five days after the open of hotline.” 29 June 2009. Accessed 19 October 2010.
Liu, A.P.L. 1983. “The politics of corruption in the People's Republic of China.” The American Political Science Review 77 (3), 602–23.
Liu, J. 2002. “Government budgeting and accounting reform in China.” OECD Journal on Budgeting 2 (supplement 1), 5280.
Liu, Xiao-xuan. 2009. The Micro-foundation of China's Market Economy. Singapore: Gale Asia.
Lu, Xiaobo. 2000a. Cadres and Corruption: the Organizational Involution of the Chinese Communist Party. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Lu, Xiaobo, 2000b. “Booty socialism, bureau-preneurs, and the state in transition: organizational corruption in China.” Comparative Politics 32 (3), 273–94.
Ma, Jun and Xing, Ni. 2008. “Toward a clean government in China: does the budget reform provide a hope?Crime, Law and Social Change 49 (2), 119–38.
Manion, M. 2004. Corruption by Design: Building Clean Government in Mainland China and Hong Kong. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.
Montinola, G., Qian, Y., and Weingast, B.R.. 1995. “Federalism, Chinese style: the political basis for economic success in China.” World Politics 48 (1), 5081.
Myers, James T. 1989. “China: modernization and ‘unhealthy tendencies’.” Comparative Politics 21 (2), 193213.
Park, Albert, Rozelle, Scott, Wong, Christine and Ren, Changqing. 1996. “Distributional consequences of reforming local public finance in China.” The China Quarterly 147, 751–78.
Quade, Elizabeth A. 2007. “The logic of anticorruption enforcement campaigns in contemporary China.” Journal of Contemporary China 16 (50), 6577.
Ren, Jianming and Du, Zhizhou. 2008. “Institutionalized corruption: power overconcentration of the First-in-Command in China.” Crime, Law and Social Change 49 (1), 4559.
Rose-Ackerman, Susan. 1978. Corruption: A Study in Political Economy. New York: Academic Press.
Sapio, F. 2005. “Implementing anticorruption in the PRC – patterns of selectivity.” Working Papers in Contemporary Asian Studies. Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University.
Sun, Yan. 1999. “Reform, state, and corruption: is corruption less destructive in China than in Russia?Comparative Politics 32 (1), 120.
Sun, Yan. 2004. Corruption and Market in Contemporary China. New York: Cornell University Press.
Sun, Yan. 2008. “Cadre recruitment and corruption: what goes wrong?Crime, Law and Social Change 49 (1), 6179.
Theobald, Robin. 1989. Corruption, Development and Underdevelopment. London: Macmillan.
Transparency International. 2006. Global Corruption Report 2006. Ann Arbor, MI: Pluto Press.
The U.S. Department of Justice. 2006. Report to Congress on the Activities and Operations on the Public Integrity Section for 2006. Washington DC: United States Department of Justice.
Wang, Y. 2005. “Corruption and anti-corruption policy in today's China.” Hitotsubashi Journal of Law and Politics 33, 15.
Wedeman, Andrew. 2004. “The intensification of corruption in China.” The China Quarterly 180, 895921.
Wedeman, Andrew. 2005. “Anticorruption campaigns and the intensification of corruption in China.” Journal of Contemporary China 14 (42), 93116.
Wedeman, Andrew. 2008. “Win, lose, or draw? China's quarter century war on corruption.” Crime Law and Social Change 49, 726.
Weng, Cuifen. 2009. “Analysis on the growth of bribery in China – a preliminary study.” Unpublished master's thesis, National University of Singapore.
White, G. 1996. “Corruption and the transition from socialism in China.” Journal of Law and Society 23 (1), 149–69.
Wong, Kar-Yiu. 1992. “Inflation, corruption, and income distribution: the recent price reform in China.” Journal of Macroeconomics 14 (1), 105–23.
Wu, Jinglian. 2002. “Fubai yu fanfubai de jingjixue sikao” (“Economic thoughts on corruption and anti-corruption.”) Lanzheng liaowang 11, 2023.
Yan, Q. 2006. “Institutions, corruption, and anti-corruption policies: the case of China.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association.
Yang, Dali. 2004. “Has corruption peaked in China?” EAI Background Brief no. 214, East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore.
Zhan, Jing Vivian. 2009. “Decentralizing China: analysis of central strategies in China's fiscal reforms.” Journal of Contemporary China 18 (60), 445–62.
Zhang, Jun. 2009. Transformation of the Chinese Enterprises. 30 Years of China's Reform Studies Series. Singapore: Gale Asia.
Zhang, Lening. 2001. “White-collar crime: bribery and corruption in China.” In Liu, Jianhong, Zhang, Lening and Messner, Steven F. (eds.), Crime and Social Control in a Changing China. London: Greenwood Press, 2336.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed