making local government more ethical

Extreme Ethics Enforcement in China

Last's week's Economist provides a look at a new form of local government ethics enforcement in China, which exists because local governments have failed to institute ethics programs. That form of enforcement is murder, and it appears to be increasingly accepted by the courts.

The article presents the example of the local Communist Party secretary of Lishi, who had citizens' agricultural land cleared for development that would benefit him. Anyone who stood up to him would be beaten by thugs. Protesters were imprisoned. This happened for ten years, until one victim hired the son of another victim to kill the secretary.

The murderer's brother has collected 20,000 signatures of people testifying to the secretary's wickedness, with the goal of a presidential pardon. Such petitions are now "so common that this week the government issued a regulation to stop petitioners coming to Beijing."

Last year, China's chief justice asked judges to "consider the 'feelings of the people' when handing out sentences. In June this year, a court in the central province of Hubei complied, by acquitting a 21-year-old pedicurist who had stabbed a sexually abusive official to death. ... 'There’s no doubt that if a petition is big enough it will influence a court,' says Yu Ping, a researcher on Chinese criminal law at New York University."

So without local government ethics programs in China, murder is the unofficial form of local government ethics enforcement. It's slow-moving and requires the antagonism of a great deal of people, but perhaps it will lead China's localities to adopt less extreme ethics programs.

Robert Wechsler
Director of Research, City Ethics