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China’s never-ending anti-corruption campaign

Wwhen he was there Mao Zedong hid in a cave in Yan’an in 1938 and delivered a series of speeches that constitute one of his most famous works. He argued in “On Protracted War” that China, which was invaded by Japan, cannot expect a quick victory. It has to be a long struggle.

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China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, is also fighting what he calls a “protracted war.” But the enemy in this fight is official corruption. During Xi Jinping’s first decade in power, millions of cadres were investigated for corruption, ranging from low-level “flies” to high-level “tigers,” as the Communist Party calls them (see Exhibit 1).

As he begins his third five-year term as party chief, there is no sign that Xi’s anti-corruption campaign is relaxing. Quite the opposite. A new generation of infantrymen is being trained on college campuses. In February, the Ministry of Education added “discipline inspection and supervision”—that is, stopping corruption and other illegal activities—to its list of undergraduate majors.

Inner Mongolia University is the first university in China to offer such majors. In September, 45 students started a degree in discipline inspection and supervision. They will learn about laws and regulations. For example, inspectors must know how many dishes civil servants can order for a meal. Students will also read about Marxism and learn what it means to be a committed party member. A dozen other universities are planning similar programs.

The idea is to prepare students for careers in the party’s anti-corruption ecosystem, on top of which is the dreaded Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (Central Commission for Discipline Inspection). According to party regulations, inspectors are sent to party institutions and state-owned enterprises to investigate corruption and disloyalty, or to hold criticism sessions aimed at making officials “blush and sweat.” Offenders are expelled from the party and handed over to the police when the disease of corruption “takes root”.

In “Zero Tolerance,” a documentary series aired on state television this year, senior officials made rueful confessions about their formerly lavish lifestyles.investigators from Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Explained how they caught the criminal. The party used to be wary of exposing its filthy laundry in this way. In the decade prior to 2014, there was an unofficial ban on corruption-related TV programmes. Now the party seems to think that serials such as “Zero Tolerance” and new dramas about corruption investigations will have a deterrent effect.

Xi Jinping often mentioned the “three don’ts” of corruption: cadres must “dare not to be corrupt, cannot be corrupt, and do not want to be corrupt”.this Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Describes its work as “forging the soul”. But the anticorruption campaign has political elements. During his first term, Xi Jinping used it to purge rivals such as Bo Xilai (pictured).this Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Strengthen loyalty and clean governance. “This is one of the most important ways Xi Jinping centralizes power,” said Harvard’s Yuhua Wang. “Every official understands that if they object, they risk being punished in the name of corruption.”

Nervous officials appear to be living more respectable lives than they have in the past. The expensive watches they used to wear are gone. After the party imposed strict restrictions on banquets for cadres, high-end restaurants suffered heavy losses. Last month, an official in Inner Mongolia sparked public outrage when he appeared on television wearing a garish scarf and earrings. According to reports, the local anti-corruption department is investigating her.

Surveys show that the Chinese public supports Xi Jinping’s campaign. But China’s score on the corruption perception index published by Transparency International, a Berlin-based anticorruption watchdog, has not improved much (see Figure 2). The number of official corruption cases has remained above 600,000 for four consecutive years.

Mao Zedong’s warning of a protracted war proved correct: it would be seven years before the Japanese left China. Xi’s wars have been going on for longer, and “probably will continue as long as he’s in power,” said Christopher Carothers of the University of Pennsylvania. That may take a while. Pursuing a degree in anticorruption is a smart career choice.

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