Leadership: Fear The Lean Chinese

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March 3, 2016: In China military officers were recently given detailed lifestyle rules as part of the ongoing effort to curb the persistent corruption in the military. The new rules expressly forbid a lot of the social practices that have been a part of Chinese culture for thousands of years. Military officials are now limited on how much they can spend to entertain senior officers coming to visit. Taking note of modern communications the new rules also limit the number of inspection-type visits as well as how much the travelers can spend. In doing all this the reformers are not only attacking opportunities for corruption but also emulating Western practices. It has not been lost on many Chinese military analysts that Western forces are more effective in combat in part because they are more austere in many ways that the Chinese military is not.

These lifestyle rules are but the latest attempt to curb corruption and evolved from earlier rules. For example in early 2015 the Chinese Communist Party issued an order that all promotions in the military now required candidates to meet strict weight and physical fitness requirements. In this case the thinking is that one way to curb paying bribes get promotions (enabling the promoted officer to steal even more) is to take advantage of the fact that corrupt officers tend to be overweight because they are more interested in getting rich than in being good soldiers. The corrupt officers drink more, eat more and exercise less than officers devoted to their military duties. Thus is anyone bribes their way past the new regulation they would be instantly recognizable as dirty (and fat). The reformers quickly noted that officers were willing to lose weight and exercise more, but the ornate banquets simply shifted to smaller portions of more expensive food as well as handing out more non-edible, and more expensive, gifts to honored guests. That led to the new lifestyle rules.

Many officers use a combination of greed and respect for tradition to resist efforts to curb corruption. Each new effort is seen as a challenge, not something that will eliminate any of the corruption that defines relationships between officers. Even NCOs and lower ranking troops, taking a cue from their superiors, feel free to grab whatever they can get away with. As a result decades of anti-corruption efforts have had little impact on the military. Then again corruption in the military has been a problem in China for thousands of years. Yet many of the latest new regulations are clever in that they take advantage of the fact that fat officers have long been symbolic of corrupt (and often ineffective) officers and it is hoped that any officers who continue to bribe their way past the new regulations will be called out by an angry public with access to photos of the fat officers on the Internet. For the new rules to work at all the Communist Party has to resist calls for exceptions for “special cases” (seen by most Chinese as yet another form of corruption) which would be publically ridiculed anyway. Now the reformers know that officers don’t mind getting thin and austere as long as their bank balances remain fat. So far efforts to curb military corruption has done little to reduce public ridicule, especially via the Internet. Not that corrupt officials don’t try, by hiring (from firms that specialize in this sort of thing) Internet shills to try and shout down those ridiculing the chubby and probably corrupt officers. Nevertheless the Chinese Communist Party gets credit for its persistence and that, according to tradition, is how things really get done in China.

 


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