From Our Own Correspondant – “goodbye”

It’s Raj here again! There was a great report on the World Service that I wanted to share with you. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Rupert Wingfield Hayes has been in China for eight years. The following article is an excellent piece on modern China and why it is a horrible mistake to only focus on the big shiny buildings in Shanghai and numbers of cars on Beijing’s streets.

China’s new wealth and old failings

“Why are you so down on China?” is a refrain I have got used to hearing.


Or words to that effect…. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Twenty five years ago the Chinese Communist Party decided to scrap Marxist economics and pursue a capitalist free-market economy. But, at the same time, it refused and continues to refuse, any form of political liberalisation. The result is what we see today – astonishing growth, combined with astonishing greed, where wealth means power, and without power you are nothing.

Indeed. And this is why in some respects modern China is worse than what followed before. At least before you only had to worry about the Party. Now you also have to worry about rich businessman that have officials in their pockets and can do whatever the hell they like. Also you have, according to the World Bank, increasing corruption (not less as CCP-apologists would have us believe).

Comparison of World Bank’s records on the governance of China over the last decade

So we can see that most things have got worse, especially corruption, government effectiveness and “voice and accountability”. Even regulation quality is barely up, with rule of law on the way down again. These are statistics that people rarely bother to view (or know exist), yet they reflect the reports that Rupert has been making in recent years. Things look nice on the outside, but the core is still rotten – maybe decaying even further.

Many who come to the Games will, no doubt, be bowled over by the vibrancy and modernity of China. They may even tell you it was not what they expected, not what they had seen on TV. To them I would say, remember Mr and Mrs Nie and the tens of millions of ordinary Chinese who to this day are denied the basic freedoms of speech, of a fair trial, and to equal treatment before the law. My friends at the foreign ministry will, no doubt, think that I am once again up to my bad old ways, and that after eight years I still don’t really understand China.

To be honest I think Rupert understands China better than those officials do – or at least better than they are willing to admit. After all denial is better than admitting you are the problem. It’s always easier to blame foreigners….

You can also listen to the full report by clicking here.

The Discussion: 23 Comments

Richard, I think you are mistaken. The birth and growth of corruption in China is, ironically, evidence that things have improved.

Under Mao there was no significant corruption becuase the Party (meaning its cadres) controlled everything of value. A private citizen only possessed what the Party chose to allow him to possess.

If all you have is what the your local cadres choose to throw your way, after they’ve had their pick, corruption and bribery is superfluous. Do farmers as their pigs for a cut of the slop-trough takings?

Now that private citizens are able to obtain and accumulate assets from sources other than the Party’s leavings, the cadres turn to corruption to claw some of it back into their maws.

It’s still an ugly state of affairs, but I’d rather have the State shaking me down for my money than having to go hat-in-hand to the State for the means to live.

October 13, 2006 @ 12:37 pm | Comment

Conrad, look more closely at the top of the post……

October 13, 2006 @ 7:16 pm | Comment

I beg to differ. Sure, you can find dirt without digging too deeply, and you can find glamour without digging too deeply either. But Rupert Wingfield-Hayes has always sounded far too snivelling to me – his pieces when Beijing was awarded the Olympics were a case in point. His presumably partly “bubble” lifestyle (most journalists have this to some extent) may have stopped him developing more sensitivity to all the different things going on, but that’s only a partial excuse.

Corruption is way down. Connections / backhanders / other favours are necessary for far less stuff than they ever used to be – compare pre-1978 when connections were necessary to get almost anything significant done. It varies a lot regionally but we really have a new game plan here.

People are unduly thin-skinned about any criticism from foreigners – said foreigners would do better posting somewhere on the Chinese-language internet using a Chinese-sounding name, where they’d be met with a chorus of agreement. But there ARE plenty of other ways to gripe and whine without people getting worked up for the wrong reasons. Anyone who really respects you will not suddenly start accusing you of hating China.

In other respects – there’s a lot of good and bad stuff. Both should be reported.

October 13, 2006 @ 8:50 pm | Comment


“Corruption is way down”

So you’re saying that the World Bank is lying? Please view the attachment I posted.

October 14, 2006 @ 12:56 am | Comment

As a journalist, Hayes probably feels he reports on stories that “make a difference”, and hence focuses on human rights abuses. But the fact that his own brother — who apparently reads his pieces — found himself so woefully uninformed about modern China speaks volumes.

As a Canadian, if I were the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s correspondent in Mumbai, and all my columns focused on bride-burning, caste discrimination, rampant corruption, and a widening economic gap, I might be doing an important service for disadvantaged Indians. But would I be doing a service to ignorant Canadians, who aren’t aware of the other changes in India?

I don’t personally know how ignorant the British are about China, but one of my Chinese friends who studied there was shocked at how little interest there was about China among the people she met. They know nothing about the country, and don’t care that they know nothing.

Oh, and you should link to the actual World Bank report, instead of just a jpeg that could have come from anywhere and has no context as to how “Control of Corruption” is measured. Here’s a link to results from Transparency International’s 2005 global ranking of corruption:

China is ranked an abysmal 78th (lower is worse). However, India and Russia both rank even lower (88th and 126th respectively)!

And note that the jpeg you linked shows that, between 1996 and 2005, there was a net INCREASE in Rule of Law and Regulatory Quality!

October 14, 2006 @ 3:09 am | Comment

Danfried the whole problem is that you can’t link to the report because of the way the website is set-up – otherwise I would have given a link. You have to generate the results yourself. However I’ll dig out the main link. Try the top one for a view of all the factors.

A net increase in regulatory quality and rule of law? Yes, and the rule of law results are going down. They’re up on 1996 but also down from 1998.

Seriously China’s results are not good by anyone’s imagination.

If you look at the World Bank’s figures for India you will see it does better than China over control of corruption, voice and accountability and rule of law. Government effectiveness seems to be about the same. China is a bit better over regulations. Only political stability is an area where China does much better.

By the way, I think your comments about Hays’ reporting is a bit daft. His articles are not the equivalent of writing about wife-burning all the time. If he only wrote about forced abortions or prisoner organ transplants, maybe you’d have a point. But he actually had a lot of different things to say. He’s covered more topics that a lot of other China correspondants.

Maybe it would have been “nicer” if he’d had more “happy-smiley” reports. But given the fact so many other journalists miss the big picture in being distracted by the towers of steel and glass in the big cities, I think he did a good job in reminding people there’s an awful lot wrong with China that needs to be addressed. It’s certainly always been my personal philosophy that we should talk about things that need to be resolved and not indulge in self-congratulatory backslapping while those crucial matters are neglected.

October 14, 2006 @ 4:21 am | Comment

There was really nothing new in the Hayes’s report so it is strange to me that you would think it was a great report.

He covered a story of a forced confession death penalty case and another about harvesting prisoner’s organ, and use those cases to slam China on Human right abuses which is reasonable but nothing out of ordinary. The report seemed to me more for the consumption of anti death penalty folks than anything else with that picture showing a few signs of anti death penalty slogans.

It fell into the exact same line of coverage on China’s human right issues, so what was new in there that made it great?

October 14, 2006 @ 5:24 am | Comment

Danfried, you’re setting up something of a strawman there with the Mumbai example.

And good, responsible journalists know (as I know now) that being objective and balanced is not necessarily the same as being truthful.

October 14, 2006 @ 5:35 am | Comment

So if Hayes did a good job of informing his readers, then why was his own brother so stunned by the level of development when he got to China?

Far from painting “happy-smiley” faces about China, the English language reporting I see _outside of business publications_ seems for the most part negative. Ignoring corruption? My own impression is that hardly an article is written about China that _doesn’t_ mention it.

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a businessman anywhere who isn’t aware of the problem. As noted on China Law Blog, a lot of foreign businessmen make the opposite mistake — having heard there is no rule of law in China, they proceed to act illegally and then get ripped off by their partners and swatted by the authorities.

But for many businessmen, the corruption is simply part of the cost of doing business there, just as it is in India.

I could also point out that other World Bank studies have pegged India at an even worse level of corruption than China, and the World Bank’s “ease of doing business” index for India — while rapidly improving — is still one of the worst in the world.

October 14, 2006 @ 5:53 am | Comment

“It’s certainly always been my personal philosophy that we should talk about things that need to be resolved and not indulge in self-congratulatory backslapping while those crucial matters are neglected.”

Lots of great points, Raj, but I only half agree with you here.

I see nothing wrong in praising advances and rewarding good behaviors – that can often bring about better results than simply highlighting the negative. I’d say the best results are obtained with measured doses of both. Who isn’t more receptive to criticism if it’s tempered with fair praise? The perception of balance increases credibility.

And by the way, “self-congratulatory?” What are we congratulating ourselves for? Chinese did most of the work. ๐Ÿ™‚

While China may be by some national measures becoming more corrupt, it seems to me like daily life in Shanghai is getting less corrupt. If that’s true, that could be as significant as national averages. Changes often occur here first, then ripple outward. I get the impression other big cities are changing in the same direction, but I would much rather let other posters speak for their corners of China.

That said, it won’t help much if the apalling corruption rot in the countryside and the poor provinces brings the whole house down first.

October 14, 2006 @ 6:06 am | Comment

Nausicaa: My mentioning Mumbai was not to “prove” that corruption is not a problem in China. My point is that — even though human rights are an important story — you can’t be a responsible reporter by focusing ONLY on those stories.

To defend himself against charges of not covering stories other than human rights, Hayes — instead of trying to give some examples of non-human rights stories he has written — brings up yet another example of a human rights violation in China. WTF?

Meanwhile, his own brother, who has been reading his coverage, is stunned by things that are common knowledge to anyone who has visited China.

I do think I understand your statement that being “objective and balanced is not necessarily the same as being truthful.” Sometimes there are _not_ two sides to the story. For example, the overwhelming majority of scientists believe in the Theory of Evolution, but more than half of Americans believe that both sides of the “controversy” should be taught.

But if your argument is that human rights is THE story of China — and that giving even “equal time” to covering the positive effects of its economic growth would be distorting — that is something I cannot accept.

Yes, some people who read about the growth may lose their heads. But I’ve run into Canadians who know about Falungong claims but who don’t even realize the Chinese have television! You can’t make intelligent decisions about a country without knowing about more than one aspect of it.

October 14, 2006 @ 6:21 am | Comment

Please, all, do not paste in really long URLs – it causes the comments formatting to get all wonky. Please either use HTML, or our best friend, – which is what I used to shorten a couple lengthy links just now.

October 14, 2006 @ 6:32 am | Comment

OtherLisa: Sorry about that! Will figure out how to do that.

October 14, 2006 @ 7:16 am | Comment


I do not believe it is the duty of reporters to tell people basic things they should know. I do not like dumb-downed news. If some Canadians didn’t know Chinese people have TV that’s their problem – the BBC doesn’t have to cater for people like that.

There have been so many reports by the BBC about China’s new-found wealth, reductions in poverty, soaring use of luxuries, car-ownership, etc I simply do not bother to read them anymore. If people are ignorant it’s because they’re actually not interested in China and/or cannot be bothered to access readibly available information that the BBC provides.

It is important to report on all the issues. And Hayes has actually reported on things that don’t just concern human rights. The following is an example:

I don’t think every report the guy has made was great, but this particular report was one I thought was good.

Besides I don’t believe in the “judge China by its neighbours” routine. Imposing one-party rule with the threat of the hangman’s noose can get you great results if the people will accept it. India has chosen a much more difficult form of government, though most commentators would say it’s working. It has done the hard work in establishing democracy and rule of law. China has left political reform as the last thing on the agenda, which I think will prove far more difficult than its economic reforms.

October 14, 2006 @ 7:36 am | Comment

Danfried, just go to, you paste in the long link, and voila! A tinyurl is born!

October 14, 2006 @ 7:38 am | Comment


Yeah, there’s nothing wrong in celebrating when things go right. I was trying to think of something other than “self-congratulatory” but couldn’t! Generally the BBC reports do well when talking about the China boom – the economy is doing well, poverty’s down etc, but a lot of people are being left behind and are not happy about it.

I think in looking at Shanghai you can get a bit distracted as Hays was pointing out. I don’t think “anti-corruption” is something that can really ripple out. Also remember Shanghai’s ability to influence the country may have been seriously damaged by the recent pensions scandal. I’m sure Hu will try to ensure Shanghai dances to Beijing’s tune from now on and not the other way around.

October 14, 2006 @ 7:40 am | Comment

Transparency International is a non-governmental organization based in Berlin which is dedicated to reporting and fighting corruption. I’ve seen their work and reports used by media such as the Economist and the New York Times. They do annual surveys of corruption by country.

In the 1995 TI Corruption Index, China had a ranking of 2.16 making it the second most corrupt country in the world beating out only Indonesia. A ranking of 10 means no corruption. Over the years, China has improved reaching a high of 3.5 in 2001. Anything under 3 suggests corruption is rampant. In the past few years, China has declined to 3.2 in 2005 putting them on par with Sri Lanka and Morocco.

I don’t want to make light of the serious corruption in China but I think there has been improvement. I once read a comment that Asians were the most corrupt people in the world. Checking out the Index in 2005, many of Chinaโ€™s large and undeveloped neighbors are as bad or even worse such as India, Russia, Pakistan, Philippines, Indonesia, etc. Only the developed and rich Asian countries had low levels of corruption. I wonder as a country industrializes and becomes more developed, does corruption decline?

October 14, 2006 @ 12:03 pm | Comment

William, you took the words right out of my mouth.
Wingfield-Hayes is the kind of effete journalist-in-a-bubble who makes my stomach turn.
And this particular article by him did nothing other than state what ought to have been obvious, while STILL parroting the Big Lie about China being an “economic superpower”.

He’s a hack.

October 14, 2006 @ 1:47 pm | Comment

Just want to comment on the “language of engagment” with China. I will highlight human rights as the main issue that “irks” me about this article.

There is no general understanding of what “human rights” is. I say this because there are a lot of countries, especially in the West, which refuse to “cop to” the standard from which you judge a violation of human rights.

Generally, I would say human rights violations always involve a non-western power that is being criticized, and is connected to a democracy movement being “trivialized.”

I don’t think democracy is the natural result of economic reform or even globalization– but I can say this as an observation… poor democracies do not “work.”

Also, although I understand a reporters’ need to “specialize” in an area of expertise, like China, but this is not an excuse to be ignorant of what is happening in the rest of the world. I also find it unacceptable that liberal criticism of China is not accurately reflected in these reporter’s understanding of the West, and America.

I don’t see a whole lot of reporters from london or france moving to Los Angeles and living in Watts, Compton or etc. I also don’t see a whole lot of reporting on the ghettos of france, where an entirely new poverty/rage is building. I also don’t see a coupling of the fact that, the country with the largest wealth disparity is China– and the second largest wealth disparity is in America, a country that has had longer than 20 years to figure out capitalism.

More than anything, I find the lack of articles criticizing western democracy and capitalism in these same “China-bashing” papers to be irresponsible and ingenuine. If you’re going to be a “truth-sayer,” put everyone on the same standard.

I don’t believe in objective reporting, sometimes nationalism is built into a profession, like working for your government– but reporters have to find a way to balance their own voices out, and understand their own countries’ hypocrisy before pointing arbitrarily at others.

There’s also issues like American torture, spying and Abu Graib, Guantanamo– but that’s a different post.

Maybe i’m an idealist, but that’s my 2 cents.


October 16, 2006 @ 11:40 am | Comment

LSE, I’m not clear on what you are criticising – but look on the front page of this blog; you will find plenty of criticism of American policy, especially issues like Guantanamo, Iraq and yes, even wealth disparity. In terms of mainstream media, I’d say my local newspaper (the LA Times) does a pretty good job in being even-handed about its China coverage – there are a lot of very positive stories – in fact I’d say a lot of major newspapers in the States have only recently increased their coverage of the more problematic issues – a lot of the press here during the Jiang Zemin era was pretty much China cheer-leading. Mainstream papers are also what broke Guantanamo and torture and the CIA rendition story, and there has been a lot of coverage of these issues.

I agree with you that a pretense of objectivity has at times hurt reporting by insisting on presenting “both sides” of an issue when one side is clearly in the wrong – we’ve seen this in a lot of political reporting here until very recently.

I’d also agree that class differences and economic disparity are topics that are not well-covered in the American press – a paper like the LA Times or the NY Times will do the occasional series – and do a good job – but in general it’s underreported. Paul Krugman is one of the only major columnists who does report regularly on this issue, at least the only one who comes readily to my mind.

A lot of criticisms of the press are well-deserved, but I also think people tend to judge without really reading daily papers and seeing what’s covered.

Television is almost entirely useless, beyond some stuff on PBS and Keith Olbermann, IMO.

October 16, 2006 @ 12:15 pm | Comment

Raj: I’m not sure this is the place to get into arguments about methodology – there’s some quantitative stuff to be done but most of the real stuff is qualitative. Transparency International has come a long way from when it was merely publishing indexes of expatriate’s perceptions, for example.

Anyway: the fact remains that you need to use special relationships for much, much less stuff. As opposed to cultural revolution times when you needed it for almost anything. Money is involved now, it wasn’t then – but that’s only one aspect. There was almost no money then anyway, one could say… But in more practical terms, the only people I’ve known who pay bribes are those that run shops and restaurants. I wouldn’t agree with the comparisons between 2005 and 1996, but that’s almost beside the point – I’m talking about the longer term quantum shift.

We’re not out here to persuade each other, as indeed neither of us will. But frankly you could quite easily choose some much more convincing authorities than a snivelling BBC reporter and the World Bank, whose cosseted officials and consultants (yes, I’ve met them, 500 dollar per diems and all) have been thoroughly discredited by, ahem, China, whose “development” over past decades has been no thanks at all to World Bank programmes. Well, more or less.

October 17, 2006 @ 2:04 am | Comment

There’s a whole school of argument about how the World Bank’s policies have been ruinous for just about everybody they’ve tried to “help.” One of these things on my list to investigate that I haven’t gotten around to yet.

October 17, 2006 @ 2:51 pm | Comment

[…] Excellent post over at the constistenly enlightening Peking Duck blog regarding BBC correspondent, Rupert Wingfield Hayes’ leaving China after eight years.ย  The post and the article on which it is based both focus on China’s problems typically not visible to those who come to China for business or for tourism. […]

June 30, 2013 @ 3:50 am | Pingback

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