98 Percent of Corrupt Chinese ‘Tigers’ Have This in Common
A glance through ChinaFile’s recently released visualization of individuals investigated in China’s ongoing anticorruption campaign to “swat flies and hunt tigers” makes one thing clear: the only place where tigresses are rarer than in a Siberian reserve is in the ranks of Chinese officialdom. Among the 1,462 officials whose cases were announced by the Chinese government, only sixty-nine are women. Of those women, only three are considered “tigers,” those who have at least a deputy ministerial or deputy provincial-level rank; women make up around 2 percent of the “tigers” brought down by corruption.
The first female “tiger” investigated in the anticorruption campaign was Bai Yun, the head of the United Front Work Department in Shanxi province and a member of the provincial standing committee. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) announced her investigation in August 2014 and she was expelled from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in February 2015. Bai began her career in the military, worked in the Communist Youth League and later served as party secretary of various cities in Shanxi. During one of these posts she was associated with a bribery case involving a property developer. The second female tiger and only female general accused in the anticorruption campaign was Major General Gao Xiaoyan, who served as the deputy commissar of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Information Engineering University. Authorities detained her in late November 2014, likely over bribes linked to construction projects at the 309th Hospital of the PLA, where she served as party secretary for seven years. Most recently, Lü Xiwen, the deputy party secretary of the Beijing Party Committee and director of Beijing’s Communist Party School, was expelled from the CCP in January 2016 after a two-month investigation. The CCDI’s charges against her included accusations that she “improperly discussed major policies of the central Party” and “resisted organizational oversight” among other infractions. Of the three women, she is the highest ranking to have been investigated.
Even among lower-ranking officials, women still form a sliver of those accused of corruption. Why have so few women been investigated and punished in the anticorruption campaign? Two lines of argument could offer an explanation. First, since women remain sparse in the senior levels of Chinese government, they may simply have fewer opportunities to take bribes or engage in corruption. Second, even when presented with the same opportunities for corruption, women may be less prone to act on them.
The paucity of women in the Chinese government’s upper echelons supports the first argument. Contrary to Chairman Mao’s maxim that “women hold up half the sky,” one Chinese blogger wrote, “In politics, the amount of sky held up by women is only about one half of one half of one half of one half. . . of one half.” In the current CCP Politburo, there are two women out of twenty-five and ten women rank among the 205 members the 18th Central Committee of the CCP, which assumed office in 2012. The highest-ranking woman now in the Chinese government is Vice Premier Liu Yandong, whose portfolio includes, culture, sports, science and education. A woman has never been part of China’s most elite governing body, the Politburo Standing Committee. In the lower and middle levels of government, women appear more frequently, particularly in urban areas. This is partially attributable to gender-based quotas for certain positions.
Even in this context, however, the share of women taken down in the anticorruption campaign is low, a mere 4.72 percent of the total. In contrast, women make up 23.4 percent and 18.4 percent, respectively, of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s two top representative bodies.