Parallels between the Ming dynasty and Xi Jinping’s “anti-corruption campaign”

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Of all the civilisations of premodern times, none appeared more advanced, none felt more superior, than that of China.

Its considerable population, 100-130 million compared with Europe’s 50-55 million in the fifteenth century; it’s remarkable culture; it’s exceedingly fertile and irrigated plains, linked by a splendid canal system since the eleventh century and its unified hierarchic administration run by a well-educated Confucian bureaucracy had given a coherence and sophistication to Chinese society which was the envy of foreign visitors.

To avert the fall of the great Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the Chinese emperor in the early ages was filled with the notion of rooting out bureaucratic corruption, to which the earlier Yuan dynasty had fallen prey.

Officials accused of taking hefty bribes had their skin stripped off before execution and fastened with the mannequins found in the scarecrow temples to serve as a precedent and warning to others.

In the worst scenarios, entire clans were inflicted with death punishment. However, like other empires, this one had collapsed under the burden of its bureaucratic corruption and was later thrown away by the invading Manchu armies.

Chinese president Xi JinPing’s rule is no different to the Ming dynasty. Since taking office back in 2012, he has undertaken an array of exceptional initiatives; amongst the most prominent and applauded is the anti-corruption campaigns.

Xi being an avid student of imperial history is well conversant with the old dynastic cycle involving the “mandate of heaven.” The Chinese philosophical concept under which it is the emperor’s divine right to rule has certainly vanished, all thanks to corruption, inequity and ineptitude.

In spite of this awareness, it’s interesting to ponder how China’s contemporary anti- corruption framework imitates the Ming’s touring corruption inspector’s system. It was clearly stated in a recent research paper published, by a  group of academics at Beijing Normal University, that the country is following in the footsteps of its predecessors- an old imperial system in discipline and inspection regime, but subject to the same flaws as in past.

The Chinese tradition of strong family ties, prevailing since time immemorial, hasn’t lost its value, where it’s still considered deplorable to let down your family, clan and friends than to breach the law in Ming’s era. The corruption inspectors, supposedly abiding by the said principles laid down under the constraints of Confucian morality, exercised unlimited powers without effective supervision. Thus, many inspectors fell prey to corruption.

Another flaw to bring down the empire was the lack of independence found within the imperial anti-corruption system, and inspectors were used by the emperor as a tool to rule the plebeians and courtier. In present china, this certainly applies, as Xi’s anti-corruption drive has thrown out all the senior officials, who were members of the powerful political rival group, but his act cannot be disregarded in rooting out corruption.

He is of a view that his rule might be under threat and may create political instability, with no one left to rule after a clean sweep. The so-called “anti-corruption campaign” is nothing more than a purge of his political enemies.

Tony Simon

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