The Corner

Corruption Scandals

Jonah:

Well, it depends on how you quantify. Any pre-industrial bureacratic empire

like China’s — or Tsarist Russia’s, or the later Roman, or ancient Egypt –

needs more officials than it can actually pay, so the officials have to

resort to corruption. (Though in Imperial China, at any rate, there were

always a few stiff-necked officials, like the famous Hai Rui in the late

Ming, who refused all bribes and favors.)

Maurice Collis, in FOREIGN MUD, his account of the Opium War, tells of a

Senior Censor (that is, an imperial official whose job was to keep other

officials in line) being sent down from Peking to find out what was going on

on the south China coast in 1834. What was going on, of course, was

widespread opium smuggling, with all the local Mandarins skimming profits

from the trade. It was therefore necessary for the Mandarins to pay off the

Censor. The bribe they assembled was so big it raised the price of gold by

nearly 4 percent. (Op. cit., p.149.) In this case, too, though, an

incorruptible official — the famous Lin Zexu — eventually showed up.

(Though he later got blamed for the war and exiled to the remote

northwest — a case of no good deed going unpunished.)

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