Bribery is a Fashion
“In city and local governments, bribery is a fashion,” my friend tells me, over a cup of tea. As Americans, I can pretty much say that none of my friends or I know much about bribery, but in most of the world that’s the rule. I knew from my many foreign relations and from listening to programs on travel that this was the truth; and though I’ve still never seen it up close and personal, I couldn’t imagine how crazy the full extent of environment is – was. Note: everything that follows is the account of one man, though one man I trust very well.
It seems to start quite early on; children are not spared the consequences of not greasing the right palm, and according to my friend it starts as early as preschool. One other note before we begin, China is a capitalist country run by a ‘family’ of communist Mafiosi. They get some stuff don’t because they have to, but only if it doesn’t interfere with getting’ that bag. This getch yur money’ attitude permeates all the way to the youngest professionals. As such, if you want your child to get after the bag, you gotta get em running early. How can you get them running as fast as possible? Bribe the preschool teacher. There was an older tradition of giving a newly-wed couple a red paper packet filled with money – as most people in the world do. I remember in Godfather when Vito Corleone’s daughter marries Carlo, she has like, a pillow case filled with white envelopes of money, well it’s pretty much the same in China. This tradition spilled into other parts of the culture, and red packets are given out by everyone for plenty of reasons. Not only did my friend’s parents bribe his pre-school teacher, but likely most of the parents were. There’re no rules for how much or how often, for bribing teachers, but there are so many people in China that sometimes primary school classes can have sixty kids or more. By junior-high school the classes are sorted by performance, so most of the grades beforehand do a good job of sorting all the young ones into grades based on achievement. How can your kid get into the smarter classes? Get the teacher to pay attention to your kid. How might you do that when there are sixty other students in the class? I think you see where I’m going with this. The teacher doesn’t have time to stop the class and make sure every kid is up to speed on what’s happening. The curriculum is very rigid, and if a kid falls behind, they’re in a bad way. But Omega watches tick very loudly in the right ears.
The next part of this story is the fact that even the students begin to realize the game, and my friend told me he bought his teacher lunch one day just to make sure his grades were up to par. I recall when I was a good there was something about giving your teacher an apple? Well this is a fair bit heavier than that. In primary and middle school, students of exceptional performance in each class are given pseudo-military stripes on their uniform sleeves, 1 branch, 2 branch, and 3 branch. They kind of look like this I-----I Branch 2 for example, are given time every week when they are “on duty,” and in the most sickeningly Stalinist behavior they keep tabs on EVERYBODY; logging strange, unacceptable, or malign behavior in the students – but also the faculty; my friend tells me he’s heard of teachers disappearing before. When my friend was young, he bribed his teacher to promote him from first branch to second branch in order that he might have this responsibility. In no time flat the tables had turned, and it was HE who received the bribes – students and classmates asking to look the other way if they misbehaved in this or that capacity; buying him lunches or nice school supplies. His was also the job of arranging which students had clean up duty. I did not confirm in what domain that would lie, either classroom or schoolhouse, but safe to say more bribes came his way for this reason than any other.
“This was my first taste of real power,” he told me, and as much as our eyes told each other of mutual disgust, my blues conceded of power being no small thing to turn down; that receiving a payment in exchange for the nod of a head must be truly delicious. In the following grades he managed that position again based on merit of grade than of wallet, but he assured me that most of this behavior comes to an end in high school proper, as the pressure to answer questions correctly becomes so great – the looming rain clouds of possible collegiate failure drawing nearer and nearer – that no one has time to worry about it. And the story becomes much the same in college, which is apparently much more like a resort than an educational facility.
Beyond this, the realm of bribery takes a nastier turn. Cut loose from the teat of parent and state, thrusting one’s rapier into the breast of society, bribery becomes often, the choice between a terrible fate, and business as usual. Basically, as my friend claims, anyone in a uniform is going to expect a little something extra, whether that’s a police officer, fireman, surgeon or other medical officer, surveyor, inspectors of all kinds, or anyone whose signature you need. He told me a story of his mother being hospitalized, and in order to get an experienced doctor, he had to bribe the man 1000 Chinese yuan. The severity of the surgery required rapid action, and so needing a slot that day; another 500 yuan was required. Apparently he had to bribe the bloody anesthetist as well. He assured me if the money didn’t come, his mother would be pushed to the back of a que, and given treatment by interns – interns! Rich men of course, as he put it, could crush some people indicating the operation of a vehicle with his arms, and get out that day. As sick and gross and corrupt this all seemed, he did mention it’s a good feeling receiving the special privilege that comes from lining someone’s pockets, and that at least in our government, the reality was likely no different. I definitely see his point, and there’s something to be said for the effect which “Drain the swamp” rhetoric had on the American people during Trump’s march to glory. I’m just glad most of our domains of service and organization are protected from this kind of behavior – you can’t bribe an FAA inspector to pass a plane – I’ve known FAA and EASA inspectors, they are usually from Sweden, and usually look the type to be easily offended (one once yelled at me for not carrying a box cutter with me at all times, claiming that to do otherwise might lead to lazy and reckless opening of boxes of aircraft parts). My friend told me he has bribed over a hundred people; he’s thirty-one years of age. All of them, he told me, brought out anger and resentment, and regardless of the special privilege, he would be happier if that particular facet of his society went the way of the Tasmanian Tiger.
Today, I’m a proud American, you should be too.