AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audi Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. China's new president, Xi Jinping, was confirmed in his post this week at the National People's Congress. He says one of his priorities is fighting corruption at all levels of government but that will be a challenge. A culture of political patronage is deeply ingrained in the Communist Party. NPR's Louisa Lim has this story on how the murky side of Chinese politics was exposed in one recent scandal.
LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: Huang Yubiao is a real estate millionaire once lauded on local television for selling out to charity. But his largesse went further still. In January he admitted to doling out $50,000 in bribes to try to win a seat in the People's Congress in Hunan Province. What's more, the 300 something people who accepted his money were all city congress members. But he told NPR he didn't pay out enough.
HUANG YUBIAO: (Through Translator) Everyone was doing it. My bribes were the lowest, so I wasn't elected. They asked me to add money but I didn't. They told me I couldn't be elected as I only paid $160 a head. It needed to be higher, maybe even triple that.
LIM: Now a corruption investigation is underway. There's no way of measuring how prevalent job buying is but it has a long history in China. Historian Zhang Lifan says the first recorded cases were in the Han dynasty, 2000 years ago. Nowadays he believes such transactions are increasingly sophisticated.
ZHANG LIFAN: (Through Translator) Everything's for sale. Some people don't even use cash. I know that people who want to be legislators can just give an antique or a voucher to whoever's in charge, or even help their family members go oversees to study. There are all kinds of transactions.
LIM: As China changes its leadership, personnel changes are happening at every level of the system. This is when post-buying is at its most serious, according to anticorruption expert Ren Jianming from Beijing University. One example is a man named Hou Wujie. Chinese press reports say the day he was dismissed from his post for corruption, he promoted more than 100 officials. He was sentenced to 11 years in jail but was released on parole after serving just five.
Zhang says the most expensive posts are those with clear money-making opportunities, like the power to approve land deals or dismiss police cases.
REN JIANMING: (Through Translator) Being a congress member isn't the main aim when it comes to buying jobs. It tends to happen most in posts that are high-value, like party secretary, city mayor or police chief. They carry many benefits.
LIM: I show him a job menu circulating online. It's a list of how much it cost in 2006 to buy a job in one city, Chenzhou. Three-hundred-thousand U.S. dollars could get you county party secretary. For a quarter of a million dollars, you could be county police chief. Ren believes the figures to be reliable, but says it would cost more nowadays. The security of a state-affiliated job is a big pull. Anecdotal evidence now suggests there's a price for lower level jobs, too, like doctors jobs in hospitals or even a staff job on the subway. Corruption, he warns, is everywhere.
JIANMING: (Through Translator) It's not just corruption of the bureaucracy. There's corruption in every field. In medicine, there are kickbacks and packets of money passing from patients to doctors. Even in education, parents know how to cement relationships with teachers by giving gifts. These things pollute kids when they're very young.
LIM: This video shot by a Chinese newspaper is ample proof. The reporter's asking six-year-olds what they want to be when they grow up.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
LIM: A pilot, says one girl. A firefighter who helps people, says a little boy. I want to be an official, says this boy. What sort of an official, he's asked? A corrupt official, the little boy says, because they have lots of things. Even six-year-olds know what corruption is. One of China's most famous playwrights, Sha Yexin, now warns the system itself is in danger.
SHA YEXIN: (Through Translator) If it continues like this, if China doesn't carry out political reform or constitutionalism, then it's not far from collapse.
LIM: That corruption threatens the existence of the party is universally agreed from the top down. China's new president, Xi Jinping, has started his own anticorruption campaign, threatening to go after the big players, the tigers as well as the flies. It's a matter of political self-interest and survival for China's new leaders. The problem is how to root out corrupt officials when so many are quite literally invested in the system. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.