China's anti-corruption campaign 'always on the road'

Updated: 2016-10-28 15:26


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BEIJING - If a picture is worth a thousand words, an eight-episode TV documentary has the power to really make a message hit home.

The documentary "Always on the Road," the title alluding to China's lasting countercorruption drive, has been watched by lots of people, including former colleagues and subordinates of the officials profiled in the program.

"I witnessed my former colleagues being taken away and put behind bars," said one senior official in Huainan City in the eastern province of Anhui, who requested anonymity. "I had worked alongside them for many years. The documentary reminded me how important it is to be highly disciplined as a civil servant."

CCTV broadcast the documentary from Oct. 17, with the final episode aired Tuesday. It featured the details of 77 cases involving officials such as Zhou Yongkang and Ling Jihua.

Bai Enpei, a former senior lawmaker with the National People's Congress, broke into tears during his piece to camera. His story has many of the hallmarks of other officials that have accepted bribes.

I felt life was so unfair when I experienced the lives of the wealthy businessmen, he said.

His wife accepted numerous gifts from businessmen who associated with her husband, including an emerald bracelet worth 15 million yuan. Bai also allowed her to accept bribes by playing mahjong, when her competitors would intentionally lose and hand over the bribe as her "winnings."

Zhou Benshun, former Party chief of north China's Hebei Province, said in the documentary that he "was born to an impoverished family and was brought up to despise corrupt officials," before adding, despondently, "ultimately I became a corrupt official myself."

Zhou's ill-gotten gains bought him a life of unfathomable luxury -- he had a secretary, a driver, two chefs recruited from his hometown Hunan and two nannies to tend to him and his family in their 800-square-meter villa. One nanny's sole responsibility was to take care of his pets.

Of the 77 officials in the documentary, 11 were from north China's Shanxi Province. This mass fall from grace had huge administrative repercussions for the province, as many vacancies need to be filled.

Since China's anti-corruption campaign shifted up a gear, following the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in late 2012, people have seen some changes in the behaviors of officials.

Yuan Wenqian, a resident in Fenyang City, Shanxi, recollected that in decades past, it was not unusual for officials to hold lavish feasts. Sometimes as many as 28 dishes crowded the traditional round tables used for banquets.

"Now the standard is four dishes and a soup per a table," Yuan said. "If there are too many diners, we eat 'huicai'." Huicai is a dish unique to Shanxi, in which different vegetables and meat are cooked together.

Taiyuan, Shanxi's capital, boasts some of the country's most beautiful scenic parks. High-end hospitality service centers, formally exclusive venues for local officials, are now open to the public. In the evening, residents are seen strolling along the Fenhe River, some parts of which were once off limits to the hoi polloi.

"A stroll along the riverbank is nothing unusual -- for us. For those behind bars, however, they have been stripped of everything, even the freedom to walk along a river bank," said a senior official in Shanxi, who asked to only be identified by his surname Yu, after he had watched the documentary.

Ma Yuanyuan, who works in Shaanxi, watched the documentary after an old teacher shared it on the messaging app WeChat.

"I hope that my students, wherever you are, do not take the wrong path," read the comment accompanying the original post.

"To officials it is a warning, and to us, it is reassuring to see the determination of the central government," Ma said.