These examples reinforce the peculiarity of the Chinese case. Despite its reputation for rampant corruption, it would be hard to equate corruption in contemporary China with that I describe in Equatorial Guinea, Zaire, or Sierra Leone where elites engaged in wholesale plunder. Nor would it seem reasonable to say that corruption in China resembled that found in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, or the Central African Empire. Instead, perhaps the best macro-description of corruption in China is that it is widespread but anarchic and involves significant individual officials and rings of...
in the developmental states of South Korea and Taiwan. Nor is corruption in China characterized by systematic plunder like the hyper-corrupt kleptocracies found in Equatorial Guinea and Zaire. Herein we once again confront the core dilemma: how could the Chinese economy grow at almost 10 percent annually for almost a quarter-century even as corruption worsened?
Unlike the stereotypical kleptocracy where corruption is allowed to fester and metastasize, the CCP has tried to fight the rot. And while its efforts may not have been entirely or perhaps even largely successful in dramatically reducing corruption, the mere fact that the regime battled corruption prevented it from spiraling out of control. The regime’s sustained war on corruption has thus acted as a governor, albeit an imperfect one, that has at least kept corruption in check.
For all the hype about China’s descent into endemic corruption, in relative terms corruption in China is not remarkably bad. Between 1992 and 2009, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index gave the country an average score of 6.66 out of a possible 10, with 10 being the worst (most corrupt) score. At that level, corruption in China was worse than the global average of 6.01 but better than the median of 6.81. In fact, China’s average score placed it in the second-most corrupt quartile, where scores ranged from 5.06 to 6.81. It’s true, of course, that China was located close...