Naked Officials: Criminals or Victims?

Ever since President Xi Jinping came into office and declared a “war on graft,” there has been much publicity surrounding punishments of corrupt officials. Many view the punishment of these people as a good thing, proof that the war is effective. But there is one group of people who seem to be unfairly caught in this anti-graft web – the “naked officials.”

Naked officials are people (mostly men) who work in some capacity in the government whose family members (spouses and children) all live abroad. Since January, many provinces, especially Guangdong Province, have been specifically targeting these officials and firing them, demoting them, or forcing them into early retirement. The problem, though, is that none of these men have committed any crimes. According to articles in the Shenzhen Daily from January 17, June 9, July 16 and July 27 (all from this year), the officials have not been involved in any issues of corruption, but “are viewed as flight risks whose ability to escape overseas could make them more inclined to engage in corruption.” According to my, admittedly, limited understanding of Chinese law, though, emigrating overseas is not illegal, and I don’t think it is legal to persecute people for crimes they might commit. I don’t think China’s anti-graft committees possess the power of premonition.

Many Westerners don’t really like traditional Chinese medicine because it tries to treat the cause of illnesses instead of the symptoms, but China’s approach to societal ills is opposite. The persecution of the naked officials is just one example in a long list of China’s approach of treating the symptoms of societal ills instead of the sources.

Instead of increasing patrols and regularly enforcing traffic laws, one-day crackdowns to catch lawless drivers are occasionally held. Instead of improving the healthcare system, guards are posted in hospitals to take down any victims who might lash out at hospital staff. And instead of finding out why people are so desperate to leave China, the government punishes those who stay behind.

Today, the Shenzhen Daily reported that 88 people suspected of corruption and who fled abroad have been captured, but the article does not say whether any of those people were naked officials. If officials are corrupt, they should be captured, and they should be punished, but no one should be preemptively punished for a crime they might commit.

Being a government official is a good job. The officials are usually paid well, have job security, and receive social benefits such as a healthcare plan and a retirement plan. Yet these people, the ones who have it the best in China, want to leave just as much as the poor and disenfranchised people. The government needs to do some soul-searching to find out why. Why are the families of these officials emigrating? What could the government do to entice Chinese nationals to remain in China? These are the questions the government should be asking.

China will not improve until all laws are fairly, equally, and consistently applied to all people everywhere. Sudden crackdowns and targeting specific groups of people will not encourage everyone to follow the law. China must treat the sources of societal ills before there will be an improvement in the symptoms.