Rachel Lu

Bribery for Dummies: Leaked List of Officials and Suggested Offerings Makes Waves

(Via Flickr/xcode)
(Via Flickr/xcode)

How do you get a “license to pollute” in China? Start by giving a RMB2,000 (approximately US$330) gift card to the local environmental protection agency’s director.

That is, according to a list that was circulated on China’s social media that allegedly shows 47 government officials as recipients of gifts from a real estate developer in Yinchuan, the provincial capital of Ningxia province. While the authenticity of the list cannot be verified, journalists in China have confirmed that the officials named on the list do indeed exist.

The list is organized by the agency of the recipients, encompassing everything from city government, tax bureau, land bureau, police station to “sports bureau.” The amounts range from RMB1,000 to RMB3,000, mostly in the form of gift cards. This user-friendly list also states the purpose of some of the gifts. For example, a RMB1,000 gift card to Director Jin of the religious affairs bureau is for the sake of obtaining a “halal food license.”

The list has caused a splash online, where it was retweeted more than 1,800 times. Most netizens were shocked not by the apparent existence of such outright bribery, but by the meager amounts of the gifts. Many asked if a few zeros were missing. @彭世佳 tweeted, “Such cheapstakes. Only RMB2,000 to the secretary of the mayor? What can they get anything done?真抠,市长秘书才给2000,能办成事阿?

However, one netizen with apparent knowledge of how the wheels are greased in China, tweeted, “The numbers are about right. The amounts we usually give are even lower, and basically they get the job done. The Internet rumors are overblown. It’s very rare to give a few million, unless there is something really important to be done.”

@小Y274635103 tweeted, “This is totally normal. All the companies do this at the end of the year, especially giving to the registration bureaus, tax collectors and health inspectors. Even if you bribe them, there is no guarantee that they won’t screw with you. But if you don’t, they will definitely screw with you.”


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Rachel Lu

Rachel Lu is a co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation. Rachel traces her ancestry to Southern China. She spent much of her childhood memorizing Chinese poetry. After long stints in New York, New Haven and Cambridge, she has returned to China to bear witness to its great transformation. She is currently based in China.
  • Jesse

    Before returning to the United States from China this summer many teachers at my school needed a new visa and resident permit in order to come back the following year. However our school was having problems obtaining them on time because of the amount of other schools applying for the same thing. On our office assistant’s 3rd trip to the local office to combat the red tape I jokingly asked her if we needed to provide a “red bag” to smooth things along. She turned to me and said, in a straight faced but mournful way, “We’ve already done that!”

    • pfcwms

      Great anecdote, but a wheels-greasing gift of cash is usually placed in a red envelope, not a red *bag.

      • Jesse

        Thats what they call it in Chinglish ;) The word bag is pretty commonly used to replace envelope.

      • Foubs

        In Chinese it’s 红包-Hong Bao, which literally means Red Bag :)

  • Paul Schoe

    The amounts are not as meager as that they seem. If you take into account the number of companies or people that need something done, then these contributions for a fluent and smooth processing add up to impressive monthly amounts.

    For foreigners these ‘drinking tea sessions’ always remain an awful situation, it are not the amounts, which in some situation are even reasonable in case you want something special done which does not fit in their standard task description (contrary to the West, tasks are defined in much detail over here, and it is sometimes very difficult to get somebody to do something that does not fit within those sometimes very limited task descriptions. Most people are not responsible for a job to be carried out well, but simply for a list of tasks.) Asking them to do soemthing that is not in their list of task, is not only merely asking for a service, but it is also asking them to ‘take on a risk’. After all you are asking them to do something that they are not authorized for and can therefor be disciplined for by any senior who is looking for a reason.

    So offering a compensation to do something that is not in their task description is sometimes not even that unreasonable. But the social dance around it, is very difficult, if not impossible, for foreigners. Drinking tea, having a chat, laughing about current events, becoming ‘close’ friends while we all know the ‘business’ objective. Its an awfull social dance, particulalry as we miss the natural feeling of when and how to produce that “red bag” that Jesse mentions.

  • Konjit Solomon

    Are those special cartons of cigarettes one buys based on RMB amounts for gifting out of fashion now?