For the Sydney Morning Herald, John Garnaut looks at the flow of money in a county in Anhui, which he gives the fictitious name Benghai:
A year ago I toured Benghai with Graeme Smith, a scholar at the University of Technology, Sydney. Since then, Beijing’s regular corruption crackdowns have appeared to me to be little more than pantomime, designed to reassure the public and defeat the odd political adversary.
Smith has spent four years getting to know everyone he can in Benghai and working out exactly how the money flows. He has now mapped the internal logic of Chinese corruption in Political Machinations in a Rural County, in The China Journal.
The perpetrators of corruption are rarely morally good or bad. Rather, they are playing by the unwritten rules of a system that makes them utterly dependent on the patronage of those higher up the tree – and oblivious to the needs of those below.
One reason Benghai County is doing well is that it has opened embassies in seven cities for the purpose of cultivating higher officials. ”What do you think these offices do? Hand out brochures? The money goes up, and then the money comes down,” a Benghai business source told Smith. Despite its relative wealth, or perhaps because of it, Benghai convinced Beijing to reinstate it on China’s ”impoverished county” list, which led to two major international aid projects and additional national infrastructure projects. Once the money comes down, a huge and rapidly growing bureaucracy divides it up in places like Sauna City.