China’s Communist Party got almost 2 million citizen complaints last year -- yet doesn’t seem to mind.
- By Liz CarterLiz Carter is assistant editor at Foreign Policy's Tea Leaf Nation. She lived for several years in Beijing, China, where she wrote and translated three Chinese-English textbooks and studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University. Since returning to the United States, she has co-authored a book on subversive linguistic trends on the Chinese Internet and been interviewed about developments in China by the Christian Science Monitor, Forbes, the Washington Post's WorldViews, and PRI's The World.
In 2013, China’s Communist Party disciplinary organs received an eye-popping 1.95 million citizen complaints about officials. This is a 49.2 percent jump from 2012, according to a Jan. 13 report from state-run website China News Online — but surprisingly, the article did not evince displeasure with the total, calling 2013’s anti-corruption efforts "the strongest in 30 years."
Why did China News Online trumpet such a high number of complaints? In September 2013, finding itself on the defensive end of what it called a "public opinion struggle," the Chinese government began to crack down on social media chatter aimed at Chinese leaders. Around the same time, it rolled out a new website allowing users to report crooked bureaucrats directly to the party. Aggrieved netizens may now feel safer using official avenues of complaint rather than kvetching on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter.
If the spike in corruption allegations is real — Chinese state media has padded the stats before — it may actually be a good sign for authorities. In the 2013 book Why Communism Did Not Collapse, Martin K. Dimitrov, a professor of political science at Tulane University, argued that China’s petitioning system is a form of proxy accountability that allows Beijing to ensure citizen loyalty in the absence of democracy. While Chinese authorities continue to suppress public demonstrations, they may welcome complaints lodged through official channels. "Petitioning represents institutional buy-in and is thus desirable" for China’s leaders, Dimitrov wrote in an email. If that’s true, the Communist Party has almost two million new reasons to pat itself on the back.