Friday, September 5, 2008

Sucking The Public Teat

One of the stories in Out of Mao's Shadow was a libel case brought against two authors by a public official. The book in question is 中国农民调查 (An Investigation of China's Peasantry) and there is an abridged English version titled Will the Boat Sink the Water? The government official, Zhang Xide, claimed the book told lies about him and that he was a perfect public servant. During the trial, the defense turned the libel trial into a referendum on abuse of peasants by local party officials as many peasants testified to the violence they suffered at the hands of Zhang. To rule for the plaintiff would mean a tacit approval of violence against peasants to collect illegal taxes; a ruling for the defendant would embarrass the government since they promoted Zhang. As usual, the court did nothing. The trial was in 2005 and there is still no verdict.

Anyway, on page 174 in the book, I found this data about the ratio of government officials vs. commoners:
Western Han Period (206 B.C. - A.D. 8): 1 to 7,945
Eastern Han Period (A.D. 25-220): 1 to 7,464
Tang Dynasty (618-907): 1 to 2,927
Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368): 1 to 2,613
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644): 1 to 2,299
Qin Dynasty (1644-1911): 1 to 299
Modern Era (1911 - present): 1 to 67

The numbers above are from a 1987 report on the third national census; by 1998, the ratio has risen to 1:40. I'm not sure how that compares with the US or Canada but it seems kind of high. My sense is that nepotism is more common in China than in Western societies. Some of my relatives semi-expected me to get them jobs at Broadcom after I was hired.

Even worse, not only do you need to take care of your friends and family, you also need to take care of your mistress and her friends and family. The ex-roommate of my friend in Chengdu just started work at a cushy government job that pays pretty well (~RMB4000/month), courtesy of her "boyfriend." She is only 21, still in college, has no work experience, and this is the third married guy she's sleeping with (sometimes concurrently) during the past year for money and other benefits. In addition to the job, this guy is paying for her apartment, buys her expensive electronics and LV purses, and is going to buy her a car. A car is crazy expensive in China. Ironically, even though he wants to "marry" her, the girl thinks he's ugly and gross.

Sorry, strayed off-topic a bit. I found this report on the U.S. Census Bureau website. For 2002, the total number of public employees (FTE) in all levels of government was ~18M. Also from the Census Bureau, the population of the U.S. in 2002 was ~288M or a ratio of 1:16. Wow! This number includes public school teachers in the U.S. which (I think) is left out of the figures for China. Still, maybe Leon is right: a communist government is more efficient than a democracy. Perhaps we should nominate an emperor; a monarchy seems to be the most efficient form of government. :)


Anonymous said...

Dear totochi,

If you are interested in the problems of Chinese peasants, I would like you to join the discussion in the following web address:
I think you can read Chinese and I would like you to express your idea also in Chinese so that you can interact with the local people here instead of only thinking in the way of New York Times. Here you will find our opinion is even sharper than New York Times.

A Chinese

totochi said...

Thanks for the link.

I'll take a look but I can't read much Chinese (3rd grade education from Taiwan)... even less if it's simplified characters. However, with online dictionaries/translators, I may be able to get by. There's no way I can comment in Chinese though. :(